THE VIRGIN AND THE CRAB is about an unlikely friendship between Elizabeth Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, and a brilliant mathematician named John Dee, who later became the court astrologer to both Mary I and Elizabeth I. I say unlikely, because princesses did not mix easily with common folk, not to mention the fact that Elizabeth was constantly watched during most of her young life, until she ascended the throne at the age of twenty-five, in 1558.
But that does not matter, for Robert Parry weaves a wonderful tale about these two personalities and the horrifying times in which they lived, when people were being tortured and executed for their beliefs during the religious upheavals of the 1550s.
Although I enjoyed this novel, I have to say I found the writing uneven. The scenes with Elizabeth are so wonderful, that the scenes where she is absent feel flat by comparison. It doesn’t help that Parry’s prose style is laden down with numerous tells.Take this passage told from the POV of an unobserved Robert Dee:
“I can’t tonight, Rosy,” Rochester groans full of regret, keeping her at arms length and with a voice that confirms how much better it would be to be placed between her warm thighs instead of outside at the mercy of the elements.
“Why, if you will not, then Master Englefield will not spurn me!” Dee hears her grumble. Pouting with her red lips, she lifts a length of blond hair from her chest and throws it back defiantly across one already-bare shoulder.
“Well, your good master Englefield is also busy tonight,” Rochester answers with feigned indifference. “Anyway, what should you do with a mere boy like that!” he adds, mocking, and takes her in his arms – all soft and yielding against his thick, chilly garments. “Experience Rosy. That’s what counts,” he whispers with some merriment now to his voice.
This passage demonstrates the perils of overwriting, the logical problems (if Dee can only hear Rosy grumble, how come he can see her flick her hair over her shoulder?) which shade perilously close to head-hopping, the mark of an amateur. Not to mention the fact that at 492 pages, this novel could use some pruning.
What is very good is that Parry wears his learning lightly and does not allow the immense amount of research he has done to get in the way of his story. Four stars.