Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, commonly known as “Bess of Hardwick”, lived during the reigns of five monarchs, outlived the marriages of four husbands, and at the height of her influence, was the wealthiest subject in England. Her love of building grand estates left the world two outstanding examples of Elizabethan architecture, Chatsworth, currently the seat of the Duke of Devonshire, and Harwick Hall, known for being “more glass than wall”. Through Countess Talbot’s life, she was squarely in the circle of royalty and influential courtiers from the reigns of Henry VIII to Elizabeth I and even was a guardian of Mary, Queen of Scots. Her needlework created with Mary Stuart are lasting priceless treasures from the era.
In Venus of Winter, Gillian Bagwell paints the remarkable life story of “Bess of Hardwick” from her twelfth to her fortieth birthday. Rich in historical detail seamlessly interwoven into a compelling plot, Gillian draws the reader into the Tudor Era and squarely into the lives of Bess and her family and friends, many of whom led England through the tumultuous governmental transitions of four monarchs. Venus in Winter is pure historical fiction at it’s finest, with outstanding character development, a highly plausible plot line, historical accuracy, and very respectful portrayals of all characters. Striking to the novel is Gillian’s ability to draw the reader into the anxiety at all levels of society resulting from political power struggling common to the era, and the delicate dance Bess and her husbands always needed to waltz to remain in the good graces of the varying power players through the changing tides inherent in the English Reformation and Counter-Reformation.
Do not let the book cover fool you. Venus in Winter is not an historical romance novel, albeit the loves of Bess’ life play major in the plot. Instead, the novel focuses on the joys, challenges, and major life struggles common to all of us, but so pointedly poignant in an era where siding too heavily with one faction or another could lead to downfall, death was just one highly contagious illness away, and infant and child mortality was a fear of all parents, not just the disenfranchised. Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers highly recommends Venus in Winter, best practice literature, any genre.
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