Dramatic events in Scottish history are seen through female eyes in this absorbing new work of literary fiction from award-winning Scottish author Janet Walkinshaw.
The Five Year Queen is the first historical novel to focus on Mary of Guise, known today, if at all, as the mother of Mary, Queen of Scots, but an important figure in her own right, who led Scotland during a period of heavy political and religious upheaval.
The novel is the second in Walkinshaw's planned 'Scottish Reformation' trilogy, following the 2014's Knox's Wife, which looked at the life of protestant reformer John Knox through his relationship with his wife.
Again, the author has chosen to examine a turbulent period in history through a female protagonist, which helps bring an emotional and human dimension to the dry facts of the past and better connects the reader with those troubled times.
The novel opens in 1537, when young, beautiful and recently-widowed Marie de Guise finds herself in great demand among Europe's rulers. . English king Henry VIII wants her for his fourth wife, but Marie is ordered by King François of France to marry Scottish king James in an attempt to strengthen the alliance between the two countries
Although she initially rejects both suitors, her mind is changed when she receives a letter, apparently penned by King James himself, pleading for help in governing the unruly Scottish kingdom.
Marie de Guise is won over and relocates to Scotland but quickly learns that the deeply religious society is being riven by competing Protestant and Catholic powers, as well as pro-French and pro-English supporters.
Across the border, Henry is looking for any excuse for war with Scotland while also trying to persuade James to abandon the church as the Protestant Reformation is causing turmoil in Europe.
James is shrewd at playing a balancing act but Marie's position as queen remains precarious as she struggles to conceive a son and future heir while others are waiting hungrily to claim the throne.
The author describes a journey that King James and Marie make to a holy site which is said to help barren women bear children, and these smaller moments of human drama are just as arresting as the dangerous game of court politics.
In the years to follow, Marie will lose not only two sons in suspicious circumstances, but also her husband as the pressure of war with England takes a heavy toll on his mental and emotional stability.
Yet she steps up to the enormous challenge of preserving the nation for her daughter, Mary, whom she raises in the Catholic faith she so ardently defends, even while plans are afoot to depose her.
Walkinshaw clearly has a great passion for her subject and period, and she is an expert in vividly portraying the wider historical tapestry as well as the emotional canvas of Marie's stormy life.
A gripping real-life story of an outsider in an unsettled land, The Five Year Queen successfully rehabilitates Marie of Guise for a modern audience in an assured and compelling fashion.
The Five Year Queen by Janet Walkinshaw is available now, priced £7.99 in paperback and £3.54 as an eBook.