Review: Roses Have Thorns: A Novel of Elizabeth I by Sandra Byrd

From the acclaimed author of To Die For comes a stirring novel told that sheds new light on Elizabeth I and her court.Like Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, Sandra Byrd has attracted countless fans for evoking the complexity, grandeur, and brutality of the Tudor period. In her latest tour de force, she poses the question: What happens when serving a queen may cost you your marriage–or your life?

In 1565, seventeen-year-old Elin von Snakenborg leaves Sweden on a treacherous journey to England. Her fiance has fallen in love with her sister and her dowry money has been gambled away, but ahead of her lies an adventure that will take her to the dizzying heights of Tudor power. Transformed through marriage into Helena, the Marchioness of Northampton, she becomes the highest-ranking woman in Elizabeth’s circle. But in a court that is surrounded by Catholic enemies who plot the queen’s downfall, Helena is forced to choose between her unyielding monarch and the husband she’s not sure she can trust–a choice that will provoke catastrophic consequences.

Vividly conjuring the years leading up to the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots, Roses Have Thorns is a brilliant exploration of treason, both to the realm and to the heart.

I think I liked this book best of the three Sandra Byrd books. Partly because I LOVE seeing the “after” in a Happily Ever After. Elin/Helena marries more than once and finds true love early on. Of the three leading ladies, she is the most “historically real” rather than “based on historically real.” Maybe that’s why I liked it better. I understand the delaying of love/marriage in the others, but for me, that aspect was the most satisfying in this one – even though they went through many ups and downs as most marriages are wont to do.

Elizabeth I – the Virgin Queen – and the 9th longest serving monarch in English history [3rd longest queen after Victoria and Elizabeth II] is responsible for many of the explorations that lead to the U.S. [Virginia anyone?] and the defeat of the Spanish Armada [though God and the weather played a role there as well].

The glimpse into her inner court was a wonderful one. I felt her pain – and understood her choice to remain single, even as I wished for her happiness with the love of her life. I longed for a more peaceful reign than her father, or her brother, or her older sister – Bloody Mary. In many ways, it was, though it wasn’t without strife. Many of the things we saw in the first two books [the reformation, the translations of Tyndale and others of the Bible into English, etc] come to fruition in Roses Have Thorns.

As always with a good book, I didn’t want it to end, but I was glad to have a long, satisfying story with both Elizabeth and Helena. My favorite part? The “E” ring. I loved that and how it related back to To Die For and Elizabeth’s mother – Anne Boleyn.

The only thing I wish? That there were more coming, but, alas, I don’t think there are.

Overall Rating: 8.75 out of 10 stars

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ecopy in exchange for my honest review.


  • Thank you, Carol, for all that you have done in committing to the books in this series. I agree with you – I felt that married women needed a love story that they could relate to as well. Which is why it was satisfying to write this for all married women of all times, everywhere.

    No more Tudor books coming, at least for a while, but some more English historicals are underway. So I hope you’ll check them out mid next year. Thank you again. I deeply appreciate your time and insights.

  • carolmoncado

    SANDRA! I didn’t get a notification that you’d posted this :p. Stupid WordPress!

    I had been waiting for an excuse to move the first two off my WTR list and onto my HTR [have to read ;)] list and I’m so glad I did! I do hope to read more about the Tudors in the future and will be watching for the change to read the English histoircals!