Tuesday 4 June 2024

Book Review - The Queen's Avenger by Anna Legat

The Queen's Avenger
By Anna Legat

Publication Date: 1st May 2024
Publisher: Sharpe Books
Page Length: 230 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction


The Reformation has engulfed the Holy Roman Empire. The power of Catholic church is not what it was.

At St James’s Monastery in Ratisbon, its Scottish Abbot, Ninian Winzet, dies.

Brother Gunther, a young Bavarian monk, discovers a hidden vault in Winzet’s scriptorium containing Winzet's deathbed confessions.

The revelations are shocking. If made public, they could not only ruin the late Abbot’s reputation but also harm the monastery and the whole Benedictine Order.

Winzet, a Scot by birth, tells a tragic story of Mary Stewart, a catholic queen in protestant Scotland, hounded to death by opponents both within and outside her kingdom.

Having sworn to protect her and failing to deliver on his pledge, Winzet dedicates his life to exposing her enemies. But they are influential and practised at concealing their crimes. They are also unscrupulous and will stop at nothing.

When Mary’s husband, King Henry, is assassinated, she is framed for his murder, imprisoned and forced to abdicate. She flees to England - only to be imprisoned by her cousin, the Queen Elizabeth.

Winzet’s dogged investigation leads him to the real killers and their paymasters. But what recourse is there for justice?

Thwarted in his efforts, the Abbot embarks on a mission of bloody revenge to exact his own version of justice on the men who destroyed his queen.

Gunther is resolved to keep Winzet’s confessions secret, but he discovers that is not the only person who knows of their existence.

Sometimes all you can do is pray, other times call for a more direct approach. From the perspective of Abbot Ninian Winzet, The Queen’s Avenger by Anna Legat’s offers a captivating retelling of the Mary, Queen of Scots, story.

The story is narrated by two characters: Ninian Winzet, the recently deceased Abbott of the Benedictine Monastery of St James in Bavaria, and Brother Gunther. In anticipation of death’s approach, Winzet pens his last confession and conceals it within his study. Following the Abbot’s demise, Brother Gunther is tasked with cleaning the Abbot's chambers, and it is then that he stumbles upon the secret panel, revealing Winzet’s concealed confession. It is this confession that forms the narrative of this story.

Winzet’s viewpoint allows the reader to immerse themselves in the religious and political unrest of Scotland during this period. Presbyterianism beliefs increasingly dominated Scotland's religious doctrine. The illustration of Winzet’s conflict with Dean Kinlochy and later, John Knox, was truly impressive. Legat’s depiction of the pamphlet wars and the growing hostility and suspicion towards Queen Mary by the general population was also expertly done.

Winzet is compelled by a divine message to safeguard and preserve the Queen from the very moment she enters the world, and he willingly puts himself in danger to fulfil this duty. Upon Queen Mary’s return from France, he assumes the role of her secretary and confessor. Legat’s Winzet is fiercely protective of his queen and is present for all the major events in her reign, such as the murder of Rizzio and the assassination of Darney. On certain occasions, he reaches the limits of rationality and loses control of his temper, leading Winzet to have a significant amount of blood on his hands by the conclusion of his confession. Winzet’s narrative is what propels this story forward, despite occasional deviations from historical truth in his artistic depiction.

Mary’s throne is surrounded by a complex web of deception, making her vulnerable. Before she even steps onto Scottish soil, Winzet experiences a sense of foreboding. The feeling persists as the story unfolds, and Mary becomes increasingly overwhelmed with what she is faced with - not only as a queen but as a wife. By the end of the novel, Mary has only a few close allies, Winzet being one of them, but even then, her fate is doomed. Mary's character was incredibly well drawn. At the beginning of the novel, she is optimistic, glad to be home and wanting to become the queen she had always envisaged she would become. But Scotland was nothing like France, and she was like the proverbial fish out of water. She had to face the impossible task of governing a country that was torn apart by religious differences. 

Mary’s impulsive nature is evident in her decision to marry Henry Stuart instead of seeking a strategic alliance with another European royal house. Her impulsive nature leads her down a dangerous path of regrets and life-threatening situations. The portrayal of Mary’s characterisation effectively captures the intense sense of betrayal, manifested in both emotional and physical aspects. Mary strives to maintain her strength and dignity, behaving as a queen should, but sometimes events become too much for her. The portrayal of Mary’s vulnerability is incredibly powerful, eliciting strong sympathy from the reader.

The corrupting influence of unrestrained ambition is explored by Legat in detail in this novel. The characters in this book display a single-minded pursuit of their ambitions and in many cases, controlling their queen. Personalities such as James Stewart, the 1st Earl of Moray, embrace a contradictory approach by supporting opposing sides, he happily runs with the hare and hunts with the hound. His cold-heartedness is matched by his duplicity and ambition. His goal is power, and he doesn’t mind the methods used to obtain it. Readers can easily despise this character due to his arrogance, conceit, and nothing-can-stop-me attitude. There are other characters in this novel who share the same attributes as Moray, and history shows that Mary was at a significant disadvantage against such overwhelming opposition. She certainly didn’t receive the same level of respect as her cousin Elizabeth.

By beckoning the deceased to revisit the splendour and dread, Legat elicits a profound sense of empathy for their circumstances. To confront a twisted version of justice, and to be unjustly condemned due to the prosecutor’s greed and vanity, forces the reader to reflect on the contrast between that era and our own. This era was characterized by intense religious violence, and the novel effectively captures the turbulent nature of this period.

Brother Gunther, a fictional character crafted by the author, serves as the other protagonist in this story. Upon finding the late Abbot’s confession, Brother Gunther is torn about how to proceed. Winzet commands his utmost respect, and he wouldn’t have believed the written words if they weren’t penned by Winzet. He wants to prevent the confession from falling into the wrong hands, so he keeps its existence hidden. But at the same time, he is enthralled by what is written and forgoes sleep to read the confession. But, when one of the scrolls is stolen, Brother Gunther becomes resolved to discover the thief’s identity. Like Winzet, Gunther, a normally calm person, often finds himself caught in circumstances that push him to do things he never believed he would, or could for that matter. Brother Gunther’s portrayal was masterfully crafted, showcasing the extent of his dedication to keeping the confession hidden.

In this work of historical fiction, Legat has altered the historical details of specific characters, such as Winzet, to enhance the storytelling, leading to an inaccurate depiction of who did what and why, for example, the assassination of Moray, in this story it is Winzet that pulls the triger and not Bothwellhaugh. Nevertheless, the historical background has been extensively examined, allowing readers to readily engage with Scotland in the 16th century.

truly enthralling read, The Queen’s Avenger by Anna Legat is a book that you definitely need to add to your collection, and it is one that I highly recommend.

Pick up your copy of
The Queen's Avenger

Anna Legat

Anna Legat is a Wiltshire-based author, best known for her crime thrillers and murder mysteries. Murder isn’t the only thing on her mind. She dabbles in a wide variety of genre, ranging from historical fiction, through magic realism to dystopian. She is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association.

A globe-trotter and Jack-of-all-trades, Anna Legat has been a lawyer, a silver-service waitress, a school teacher and a librarian (though not all at the same time). She read law with history at university, and trained as teacher. She inhabited far-flung places all over the world where she delighted in people-watching and collecting precious life experiences for her stories.

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  1. Replies
    1. Thank you very much, Mary

  2. Your book sounds amazing, Anna. I have added it to my to-read list.

    1. It really is an amazing read. Do let us know your thoughts when you have finished reading it.

  3. Thank you! I will be very curious to read your views when you had a chance to read it :)

  4. Thank you for this fabulous review, Mary Anne! Coming from a historian, I am doubly delighted with it.

  5. Another lovely review. I too, had added The Queen's Avenger to my to-read list.

  6. Team Yarde has done it again - honestly, I am not sure my bank account can keep taking a hit every time you review a book. But, joking aside, I am really looking forward to reading The Queen's Avenger. I have always been fascinated by Mary, Queen of Scots. Her life was so tragic. It always makes me cry when I think about her little dog, hiding under her skirts at the end of her life.

  7. Congratulations, Anna. If I may ask, what drew you to this era?


See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx