This is my first official review for the site, so I am pretty excited!
The Virgin and the Crab by Robert Parry is an intriguing look into the lives of John Dee and the young Elizabeth I during the tumultuous reigns of Edward VI and Mary I.
The strange title is derived, ingeniously, from the star signs of the two main character: The Virgin (Virgo) for Elizabeth and the Crab (Cancer) for Dee. Since the story delves into Dee's profession of building and reading astrological charts, such as nativities, it makes sense that the title would reflect this. I have never dealt much with astrology, but found it easy (and fun) to follow Dee and Elizabeth as they constructed and read astrological charts. I especially found the nativities (charts made fomr the setting of the stars and planets on the date/time of the birth of a certain person) fascinating.
I really loved this story for its originality. Yes, it takes a popular period with well known characters, but is done in a new way. Parry certainly creates a new spin on things. He uses third person narative, uncommonly used in a lot of fiction today. I personally love this narrative as it allows the reader to see multiple points of view, rather than just one. Though Parry focuses on Dee and Elizabeth, he is able to play with other characters, like John Dudley, Jane Grey, Mary I, and Edward VI to name a few. Though not the main focus of the story, Parry did not skimp on developing these off shoots. For example, Mary I is terrifying, while also completely insecure and stressed. I found myself becoming stressed when reading about her. He also portrays Thomas Wyatt the Younger as confused and unsure when riding through London during his rebellion. The reader is experiencing the same thing as the character, as the descriptions are confusing, adding to the full affect of the scene.
I also like that throughout the story the safety of Elizabeth is paramount, however we see her little. The story mostly focuses on Dee and his adventures in her service. There is a strong bond between these two characters, a bond Parry illustrates well through their symbols of communication. For example, in their first meeting they exchange gifts; a promise of a lock of hair from Elizabeth (which Dee eventually receives to his surprise) and a lovely pearl necklace from him, which she wears throughout the story. These items bring both characters strength through their tribulations, as they rarely see each other. They also send each other encrypted messages, such as a bunch of flowers arranged in a special way, rather than a hand written letter.
Though I loved this novel, I must, as a fair reviewer, say something negative about it. It does take some brain power to read this novel because of the constantly changing points of views as the narrative goes from one character to another. However, I don't consider this a negative, really. I think it is the sign of a really good, and original, novel as it takes something out of you to read. This keeps my interest and keeps my mind from wandering and losing focus on the book.
I give this book 5 out of 5 Tudor Roses.
It was above and beyond what I thought it was going to be. It is a MUST READ for those who enjoy Tudor History, or just a good book! Parry is an excellent author. I cannot wait to read his next work!