Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Maid of Secrets

Maid of Secrets

Jennifer McGowan
Fiction  Series
For ages 13 and up
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2014   ISBN: 978-1442441392

Meg Fellowes loves her life. She lives and works with the members of the Gold Rose troupe, serving as actor and wardrobe mistress. In addition, when she is not acting, she takes advantage of inattentive members of the audience, and relieves them of their money and other valuables. Meg is a very skilled pickpocket, but she finally ends up stealing from the wrong man. Sir William Cecil, advisor to Queen Elizabeth I of England, does not take kindly to being robbed and he arranges for Meg to be caught and taken into custody.

   Meg is given a choice. She can either agree to use her skills to help protect the queen, or she can accept being imprisoned. If she chooses the latter option her friends in the troupe will also be punished for their roles in her crimes. The choice is a painful one to make, but it is also easy. Meg cannot bear to betray her friends, so she accepts Sir William’s offer and becomes one of the queen’s Maids of Honor.

   Meg soon discovers that she is one of five girls, all of whom were chosen for their abilities to serve the queen. Beatrice is beautiful and knows how to use her beauty, grace, and charm to get people to do what she wants them to do. She is also very knowledgeable about the people in the court. If there is a rumor or a piece of gossip circulating in court, Beatrice knows about it.

   Anna is the brainy girl who not only knows many languages, but who can also crack codes and ciphers with ease. Jane is the girl who knows how to disable or permanently remove enemies. When it comes to fighting, maiming, poisoning and killing, Jane is the master. Sophie is a gentle soul who, it would appear, has the Sight. She seems to know things without being able to explain why and how she knows them.

   After several months of training, Meg is ready to get to work with the other maids. She is given the task of spying on some of the Spaniards who are in court. Sir William and the queen’s spymaster, Walsingham, want to know if the Spanish are up to anything. The queen also has a private charge for Meg. Someone has been causing “disruptions” in the court, and the queen fears that these events will undermine her reputation and put her right to rule in question.

   Meg learns that the first maid to spy for the queen was killed not long ago, murdered in cold blood by some unknown person. She decides that she will try to find out who was responsible for this appalling act. Perhaps the murderer is the same person who created the disruptions.

   Soon Meg is caught up in the lies, deception, and secrets that seem to lurk in every corner of the palace. She has no idea who to trust, and she is appalled when Sir William and Walsingham demand that she spy on the queen. Meg is willing to spy for the queen, by spying on her is another matter altogether. The problem is that the two men will not be denied. They will use Meg as they see fit and care nothing about the code of honor that she lives by. Meg has no idea how she can serve her queen without being forced to betray her.

   In this fascinating and beautifully written book, Jennifer McGowan takes us into Queen Elizabeth I’s court, showing us how precarious the queen’s position was at the beginning of her reign. There are those who want to remove her because she is a Protestant, and those who are eager to see her fail because she is a woman. Others are convinced that the only thing to do with her is to marry her off, which the Queen is determined to avoid. The personal problems of Meg and the other maids add an additional level of richness to the story, and it will be interesting to see, in upcoming books, how Meg, Jane, Anna, Beatrice and Sophia fare. They are going to have to be brave, smart, resilient and devious to survive. They are also going to need each other.