My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Morgan O’Neill’s The Thornless Rose, Book 1 of the Elizabethan Time Travel, was my first book by the author(s). It was one of those books that keeps you on the edge constantly, where you must know what’s going to happen next. At least that’s how I felt when I read those 500+ pages (according to my ARC).
I have never been particularly interested in the history of Tudor England, until this book that is. Apart from it’s contemporary setting, this novel connects and heavily relies on that without being made to feel like taking a History lesson. The fusion of the historical facts with the fictional was done so well that you won’t think Dr. Jonathan Brandon wasn’t one of Queen Elizabeth I’s royal physicians! Some major historical figures such as Robert Dudley, Thomas Howard, the first Duke of Norfolk, Lettice Knollys, not to mention the venerable Queen Elizabeth I played their roles as needed throughout, which is why I had to research online to find out who was who and how they were related to the story. The authors’ knowledge of Tudor history was admirable.
The story begins in the mid 1940s. Dr. Jonathan Brandon, a member of RAF in his early 30s, goes to a favorite inn of his for a bite, where he simply vanishes into the thin air. At that time, he was engaged to Catherine Hastings. No clue was found as to what happened to him, including his body. There were wild speculations about his disappearance, though nothing was ever proved; just how can a living, breathing man vanish in thin air! The next, we find poor Jonathan, in the same place in another inn, 400 or so years prior to his own time, scared out of his wit. It was vague but the hints were given that Jonathan was having some spells of morphing in and out of time but nothing was this bad. When he finally figures out he’s stuck, he runs out in the dark of the night, not knowing where to go or what to do.
A dejected Catherine after a couple of years marries Mr. Howard. They had a long, loving married life with children until Howard passed away a few years ago. At present, she lives in England where her granddaughter, Anne is currently visiting. Apart from her husband, Catherine has never confided to anyone else about Jonathan, maybe except for her old and faithful housekeeper who was there with her at that time. One day, while she’s out, Anne goes investigating her grandma’s storage, where she comes across the paper cutting on a man’s disappearance, also old articles about time travel, time shift etc. Needless to say, she’s duly intrigued. Anne later asks Catherine about it, who finally figures it’s time she knew. Afterwards, Anne decides to check out the prime points in various spots of London where there have been rumors of time travelling, sightings of people garbed in clothing from eras long gone. Once Catherine shows her an old picture of Jonathan, Anne is instantly attracted to the stranger. There’s something about those blue eyes (information, thanks to Catherine) that mesmerizes her. Anne felt a calling of sort to find out what happened to Jonathan. She begins her search by secretly going to those places in hopes to find some answer.
Catherine becomes worried because she didn’t want to lose Anne too. Here, I had some thoughts. One, why would she think Anne would also vanish like Jonathan? It was made to sound like something so... natural, as if it happens always, though I don’t know why. If so then why Catherine never travelled through time? Anne was the granddaughter, so I didn’t see any direct link to her with Jonathan, except for that she inherited Catherine’s looks to some extent. I was also asking questions about the relationship of Anne and Jonathan, seeing he was Catherine’s ex-fiancé. I had no idea if that was going to work for me or not.
On her search for answers, Anne begins experiencing those spells of morphing in and out of time. Once she travels to Elizabeth I’s time and meets Robert Dudley half-drunk. But she had no idea about his identity at that time. She also finds The Thornless Rose, which was Henry VII’s gift to one of his many, short living, wives. The meeting with Dudley, the incorrigible flirt, was funny and rather odd, but Anne was able to bring back a sample of the rose which is deemed an extinct in today’s world. One day, at Westminster Abbey, Anne glimpses Jonathan for a while. It was as if he knew her already when he kisses her and confesses that he loves her... Anne couldn’t imagine what just happened but Jonathan’s tone had a very urgent note in it that made her wonder... (we do find the connection of this ‘sighting’ at the end).
At home, while doing more research, Catherine receives a call about an ancient letter addressing her. Turns out, it was from Jonathan! Catherine is immensely happy to have some proof that he was (or is if you think of Jonathan’s time in parallel) safe and sound. He, somehow, managed to transport the letter through an old bible that was being auctioned off at that moment. These incidents begin to worry both Anne and Catherine, so much so that Catherine insists on a bag full of various modern supplies, a dagger and a cloak to hide Anne’s modern clothing just in case. But Anne is freaked out after those time traveling spells, so much so that she becomes determined to return to her home in the US. Unfortunately, Anne doesn’t have that opportunity when one day, she also vanishes into the thin air while on an outing with Catherine.
Anne ends up landing in a dark, rainy night of England at the same time as Jonathan’s. She freaks out but manages to keep calm. Anne remembers that she has to look Jonathan ASAP. Anne knew from the information in the letter that he’s now a doctor at the St. Bartholomew or St. Bart’s, which is being used as a hospital. She knows the way, now she just needs to find him. Doubly unfortunate, for Anne is spotted by two thugs who saw the whole thing. And in a time like that, if you’re seen conjured up from the thin air, rumors or no, you should prepare yourself to be burned at the stake. You’d be marked as a witch without any hesitation, just as the two thugs thought of Anne. First they try to capture her, their mind a cesspool of vile intentions. But when she makes an escape, one of them keeps following her. We find out exactly why a while later in the story.
It seemed that misfortune was dogging Anne too. In St. Bart’s, though the kindly doorkeeper let her in, Anne doesn’t find Jonathan. And the strict head nurse wouldn’t even let her wait for him, so she finds herself on the road, again, to wait out some hours before his return. Before this, Anne manages to hide some of her modern belongings, like her credit card and cell phone, in an abandoned area of the abbey. The thug who was following her finds out the hiding place. He steals Anne’s stuff to show them off to someone obviously well-off, in hopes to earn a few bucks in exchange.
Anne becomes the victim of another kidnapping attempt by the other accomplice. He succeeds this time, managing to take her to a meeting place; a brothel where their ‘benefactor’, the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Howard, frequents. In the meantime, the first thug, a rat for the Duke, meets him. No matter what the truth was, in here, I found Norfolk to be one of the most disgusting men that ever lived. He was portrayed as someone cruel with a nasty, abusive streak, specifically towards women. He enjoyed forcing the new girls of this brothel just for the fun of it since he won’t have any used girl. Oh My Gawd! When he’s shown the stuff his rat brought him, Norfolk is thrilled. He might be a sick bastard but he’s also rather canny. He figures out, or has some inclination, that Anne is from the future in matter of minutes. This is how Anne becomes his target because he must know the future; the information that can help him attain more power, even the throne! Before that, he plans to do all matters of vile things to Anne once he caught her, including using her before getting rid of her. Howard can hardly wait to begin his ‘interrogation’! Luckily, Anne had help in escaping from the brothel, thanks to a girl who was one of Norfolk’s ‘castoffs’ who harbored a deep hatred. Before her kidnapping, Anne glimpsed Jonathan for a while close to St. Bart’s when he was returning, though he had no idea what news was waiting for him.
Jonathan gets the shock of his life when his head nurse, Mary, informs that an Anne Howard, who claimed to have been related to Catherine Hastings Howard, came to see him. Jonathan can hardly believe his ears! Then as Mary begins describing Anne, Jonathan, for the first time in his miserable life, glimpses hope. Was Catherine able to read his letter? Was this Anne really related to his beloved Catherine? But when he starts looking for Anne, Jonathan comes up with dead ends as no one could give him any information on anyone looking like Anne. After that, the poor guy is mired in another bout of depression. I mean, yah he has made a life here in the past 18 months, thanks to Bishop Wright, also the doorkeeper, who took him in on that fateful night, trusting in his tale. Without him, Jonathan probably would’ve perished by now, not knowing anything practical about this era. But Wright recognized a gem when he saw at once, and Jonathan’s modern medical expertise proved to be super helpful for the people around, as much as he dared practice without any modern medical implements, and definitely without rousing suspicion. In turn, in such a short time, he became quite popular; a revered man. These people already cared a lot for their Dr. Brandon.
Jonathan proved to be a very industrious man too, by using herbal supplies to make different potions as well as home-made shampoo and soap! But nothing would give him any peace until he finds out how to get back to his time. Now, fate seems to be playing another cruel joke on him by giving him false hope. What did he think? That Catherine would come to rescue him? Send someone on her behalf? Is that even possible? Then again, Jonathan doesn’t know what’s ‘possible’ and what’s ‘impossible’ anymore. Ah, the poor man! I can’t even imagine his situation, trapped in a time where nothing, no one is familiar to him. Where he’s forced to be cautious all the time in case someone finds something suspicious and turns him in. And we all know where that’ll lead to.
By sheer luck, Anne and Jonathan meet at last when the Queen is in the area for an occasion. Anne saves Her Majesty from chocking on food. Jonathan was summoned too. This incident not only brought them together but also, helps them catching Elizabeth I’s grateful attention. Dudley, the ever present beau of Elizabeth, recognizes Anne, albeit vaguely. Unfortunately, Norfolk is also present and Anne’s now on his radar as well. To say Jonathan was stunned would be an understatement for he instantly recognized the family resemblance between Catherine and her. After they return to St. Bart’s, Anne proceeds to fill him in about the most unusual circumstances that brought her here. Of course, Jonathan would know better than anyone. He’s heartbroken to know how long it’s been, and that Catherine has been married and now a graceful old woman of late 80s. He’s surprised to learn that Anne is, in fact, Catherine’s granddaughter. Anne also gives him the letter and the things her grandmother gave her to pass on to Jonathan. All these overwhelms the poor man so much, he’s on the verge of breaking down. I felt so sad for him because the whole situation was so unbelievable, not to mention, really heartbreaking. I was also worried for Anne and how she’d fare, knowing the danger she was already in.
Anne later had to confide in Jonathan about her kidnapping. It’s when she fails to find her modern belongings where she stashed them away is when they knew how grave a danger she’s in. Anne knew who stole them for she already knew Norfolk was behind it all. And even though they now apparently have the Queen’s ear, and under her beau’s impassioned, if a bit rash, protection, Jonathan knew that the only way he can keep her safe in this era is to marry her. Besides, Catherine asked him to look after her. Anne is not exactly in favor of this idea, neither is she disgusted, although Jonathan being her grandmother’s ex-fiancé did make her uncomfortable. Anne felt wavering between decisions since she was attracted to him. But they were in a wholly unusual situation. To allay her uneasiness, Jonathan confirms that he was never physically intimate with Catherine, which kinda saves it for Anne (and me). Thankfully, this relationship dilemma didn’t matter to me throughout the rest of the story. It was also hinted at that, knowing the hygiene level of these people Jonathan had not been with anyone since he’d been so unceremoniously transported in this era. But Jonathan can’t keep his eyes off of Anne. He wants her, plain and simple. After all he’s a man who’d been celibate for long, which I could totally understand. Jonathan didn’t know if their marriage would work, yet it was his only option to keep Anne safe.
At first, it hurt Anne that she’s not marrying for love, though she really hoped that someday Jonathan would change his mind, all the practical reasons led them to marry. After a few more medical ‘miracles’ on Her Majesty and she’s singing Jonathan’s praise; so much so that she offers to host for them a wedding ceremony they’d ever forget! Anne was dressed as a dream, like a princess of the medieval era, while she couldn’t help but notice Jonathan’s muscular thighs in his tight breeches. Oh boy. :p There was the funny public consummation scene that they were able to avoid, thanks to Dudley.
Though Jonathan made it known that unless Anne feels comfortable, there would be no consummation, it was only a matter of days that their resolve began to crumble. Both wanted each other, but Jonathan more than anything because Anne was someone so close to his time, who reminded him of the home he had at one time. They eke out a life for themselves, Anne helping Jonathan with his hospital duties, making love, taking about the ‘future’, both from Anne’s time and the future they might have if they’re stuck in this era. Till now, Anne or Jonathan had no idea how they can get back, if indeed there’s a way.
It didn’t take long for Norfolk to start casting his dubious influence around to gain what he’s been thwarted from. He begins making nasty, very bold moves, including killing Dudley’s estranged wife, Amy Dudley (a historically accurate death which is still shrouded in mystery). Jonathan was the last man to treat her and so, he got entangled in this case. He knew Amy had cancer and wouldn’t live long but Norfolk wasn’t successful in making an accused man out of Jonathan. Though very little can be found on Amy Dudley’s life in reality, I have to mention that after reading the fictional scenario in which she was in, and how Dudley’s affair with the Queen hurt her, I couldn’t bring myself to like either of them. I hate adultery, and though it was committed very openly at that time, I still felt really sad for her. Amy was very lonely after her only son’s death and her estrangement with Dudley. Overtime, Dudley strayed and they were never together again. :( Personally, I tried to focus more on Anne and Jonathan, leaving the courtly intrigue where they belonged; at the back of my mind.
But both Elizabeth and Dudley play pivotal roles when Jonathan is bombarded with various troubles, one after another, thanks to Norfolk’s evil machinations. He’d destroy Jonathan now that he’s gained the Queen’s ear and possess Anne by any means. When one of his plans is thwarted, he’d plan something else to bring Jonathan down. Every action-filled moment, the suspense, the intrigues and the murders kept me on the edge, which is why I couldn’t tear myself away from this book! Let’s not forget Anne and Jonathan’s romance. I felt happy, sad, angry, frustrated, even fear when, at times, it seemed that Norfolk would succeed. Unfortunately, with his boldest moves by far, Norfolk does succeed in trapping Jonathan at last. He’s painted as a plotter who wanted to murder the Queen by poisoning her. After a farce of a trial, where Norfolk all but crowed his victory, Jonathan is condemned to hang, be drawn and quartered. I can’t even explain the dread and misery of that incident. Anne was completely helpless. She knew who was behind it all yet couldn’t prove a thing. The Queen wouldn’t even acknowledge them anymore, let alone granting pardon. Even their friends, the Hastings, whose bible Jonathan, and later Anne, used to send letters in the future, couldn’t help them, though Lord Hastings was one of Elizabeth’s cousins and Lady Hastings Dudley’s own sister. Nothing, it seemed, was going to save Jonathan from his doom. By then, both Jonathan and Anne acknowledged the fact that their unusual situation brought them closer than ever. They were in love, and couldn’t have denied their feelings even if they tried. Anne couldn’t even imagine her life without her Jon.
Thankfully, Lady Luck looks down upon them at the last moment, deciding to give them a fighting chance when Elizabeth finds herself in a very vulnerable situation; a fictional miscarriage from her affair with Dudley. Of course, Jonathan was summoned to help her since she was heavily bleeding, probably at death’s door. Everyone, even her barber surgeons, knew that only the eccentric Dr. Jonathan was capable of doing something miraculous; a fact that made him an enemy to many greedy, power hungry peeps. I was so relieved after Jonathan was saved from a certain death that I was crying and laughing with Anne, who was previously going mad imagining all sorts of nasty things that they’d do to her Jon. It also brought Jonathan and Anne back under the Queen, and Dudley’s, protection, their gratitude stronger than ever. Dudley already suspected Norfolk since he never made his hatred for him, Jonathan and Anne a secret.
At the end of The Thornless Rose, Jonathan and Anne’s fate remains the same. Though she had a chance of time traveling again, Anne decides to stay back. Norfolk manages to escape but Jonathan is relieved of the charges as more proof of his innocence emerged. But they still don’t know if they can return to their time or not. The questions remain; after all they’ve been through, and now that they’ve made a life together in this era, would Anne and Jonathan want to leave? If they do, in which era; Anne’s or Jonathan’s? Many questions for me actually and I can’t wait to find out in the later installments.
The Thornless Rose was a love story with many twists and turns, full of thrilling moments each more exciting than the previous. All in all, it was a great reading experience for me. 4.5 stars and highly recommended!
This ARC was provided to me by Entangled Select via netgalley which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.