Oliver Clements’ The Eyes of the Queen and The Queen’s Men are intriguey spy novels set in Elizabethan England. Which sounds like it would be a lot of fun, and… they are, sort of, but the word that keeps appearing in my notes is “weird.”

So we’re focusing on a handful of the Queen’s trusted advisors, actual historical figures whose secret doings we’re now seeing here. This should involve a lot of cameraderie and such-like, you’d think, but… not so. People who seem to like each other do unforgivable things to each other seemingly on a whim. Like, if one of my friends got me arrested into a filthy debtor’s prison and left me there for a long time, I don’t think they’d be my friend anymore, you know?

Similarly weird is how the books keep setting things up and then not using them. The books are just full of mantleguns that never get fired—one of the weirdest of which is that at the end of the first book, it seems like Clements is setting up a kind of historical James Bond parallel, assigning everyone analogous roles and even giving one of the agents the code number 007… but then that’s basically just ignored.

There’s also strangeness in the setting. The book seems to be written almost as pro-Elizabethan propaganda in that it is weirdly salacious about Mary, and vicious about Catholics in general. Like, obviously people in this historical period had strong factional religious opinions, but this bled through into narration to such a degree that it felt authorial.

But I’m emphasizing the weird bits heavily here precisely because they’re the parts I didn’t expect. There are also the parts I did expect, the derring-do and complicated plots and court intrigue and the mysteries solved at the last minute, and those are lots of fun. So as long as you’re okay with some oddness, you will also get the adventure story that you’re looking for. Lightly recommended.


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