Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Spy for the Queen of Scots

Spy for the Queen of Scots

Theresa Breslin
Historical Fiction
For ages 12 and up
Random House UK, 2012   ISBN: 978-0385617055

The daughter of James V of Scotland, Mary becomes queen when she is only a few days old. Knowing that her child will be in danger if she stays in Scotland, Mary’s French mother decides to send Mary to France where she can live under the protection of her Guise relatives. When she is still a little child, Mary is betrothed to the future king of France, Francis, and she grows up in the French court. One of her companions is Jenny, the daughter of a French aristocrat, who grows to love Mary deeply.

One day Jenny overhears a conversation between the queen of France, Catherine de’ Medici and one of her servants, and she comes to realize that Mary is in grave danger. Fearing that the queen may try to poison Mary, Jenny gives herself the job of being Mary’s spy. Over time she comes to understand that Mary is surrounded by powerful and ruthless people who will stop at nothing to get what they want. The Scottish lords want Mary to do what they tell her to do, and the French queen wants to make sure that she, and not Mary, is the one who controls the French throne.

When Mary marries Francis all seems to be well, except that Catherine de’ Medici now hates the young woman more than ever. Francis is a very immature, and treats Mary as his playmate rather than his wife. Being fond of Francis, whom she has known for so many years, Mary humors her young husband, even though this makes her position in the court more difficult. Mary needs to become pregnant if she hopes to consolidate her position in court.

When King Henri II dies after a jousting accident, Mary loses her strongest supporter in the court. Though Francis is technically the king and Mary is now Queen of France, Catherine de’ Medici takes over, keeping Mary isolated and unable to do anything. Jenny looks on as Mary tries to take on the role that is rightfully hers, and then supports the young queen when Francis dies.

Francis is barely in his tomb when the political situation in France erupts into violence. Mary, Jenny and the rest of Mary’s supporters are in grave danger and only survive because of the bravery of some of Mary’s Scottish lords. Mary finally decides that there is nothing more that she can do in France. The time has come for her to return to Scotland so that she can become its queen. Mary and Jenny have high hopes that they will be able to have a happy life in Scotland. They never imagine that Mary’s situation will get progressively worse as factions around her battle to seize control of her person and her throne.

Told from Jenny’s point of view, this fascinating and sometimes painful story shows readers how ill-prepared Mary Queen of Scots was to cope with the political machinations of her allies and her enemies. Jenny is steadfast in her friendship and support, but there is little that she can do to help protect Mary from traitors and liars. It is interesting to see how both Mary and Jenny change over time, and readers will come to understand that Mary was born into a situation that she had little chance of controlling. She did the best she could, and paid dearly for her efforts.