book review, historical fiction, history

Review: Elizabeth of Bohemia by David Elias

Elizabeth of Bohemia was the daughter of King James and the granddaughter of Mary, Queen of Scots. While Elizabeth Stuart may not be as famous as her grandmother or father, I was curious to learn about her life through David Elias’s new novel.
From a young age, Elizabeth’s life seemed to be marked be death and grief. She lost her beloved older brother Henry before she married and moved to Heidelberg Castle in what is now present day Germany. Elias writer Elizabeth as if the death of her brother was a major turning point in her young life, where she learned to control her emotions and cut herself off from any form of love. This character trait (which ultimately proves character flaw) is only heightened when, soon after moving to her new home, Elizabeth loses her loyal Lady Anne and then Lady Anne’s husband.
Elizabeth instead turns her passions and ambitions to her husband winning the Crown of Bohemia. Elizabeth’s many children often fall by the wayside in favor of her ambitions, as well as her steely heart. While it’s understandable that Elizabeth is almost emotionally empty since being married off into a life and marriage not of her choosing, she is also not a particularly likable character. She acts cold and rash and flippant after the deaths of her family and friends–spending exorbitant and needless amounts of money while at the same time being self-aware and just not caring about the consequences. On the flip side, Elizabeth is very much a woman of her time in carrying out her duty as “broodmare,” as well as acting as a main political driving force for her husband.
While Elizabeth herself is an intriguing historical figure given her heritage, I unfortunately found Elias’ novelization of her life to be quite dull. Long stretches of the novel would fall into glossed over summarization of important events. Additionally, while Elizabeth speaks in the first person throughout, she sometimes drops into speaking to the reader directly as if she were an older woman looking back on these events. Maybe this technique would have made sense if Elias framed the story by opening on an elder Elizabeth on her death bed telling this story to someone, but he doesn’t. These strange time jumps and near-perspective changes were confusing and disrupting to the narrative and plot. It felt as if 80% of the novel was just a summarization of events with little emotion injected, therefore I was unable to connect with any character or really feel any investment in their lives. I often found myself bored or zoning out in these large stretches of summarization that read like a dry non-fiction history book (although I have read far more engaging non-fiction history.) The only time I felt a glimmer of some sort of emotion in non-summarized scenes was around more than halfway through the novel. I was disappointed that a seemingly interesting historical figure was reduced to a dull summary.

Grade: C-

Elizabeth of Bohemia will be released in the US on June 4, 2019