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The Girl in the Mirror

3.11  ·  Rating Details  ·  173 Ratings  ·  33 Reviews
Jeanne, a young French exile orphaned by the wars of religion on the continent, is brought to London as a young girl disguised as a boy. Growing up, the disguise has not been shed and she finds a living as a clerk, ending up in the household of Robert Cecil. As she witnesses the intrigues and plots swirling round the court of Elizabeth I in the last days of Gloriana's reig ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published June 9th 2011 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published 2011)
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May 21, 2016 Marita rated it it was amazing
Historian turned novelist, Sarah Gristwood, has written a beautiful book about Elizabeth I and the Earl of Essex. Instead of the squalor that one usually reads about in that period of history, we have detailed descriptions of sumptious meals eaten by the nobility and of glorious gardens. However, there are serpents in paradise in the form of spies, intrigue, rebellion and gruesome punishment. Whilst sticking as closely as possible to historical fact, the author presents us with an interesting fi ...more
Jul 13, 2013 Smitha rated it it was ok
One of the few historical books that I have struggled to read through. I picked up the book because the story seemed very interesting.

Jeanne Musset is an orphaned little girl who is smuggled into England dressed as a boy. She grows up in disguise and ends up working in the office of Sir Robert Cecil, at a time when Queen Elizabeth is aging, talk of her successor is raging and the court is full of intrigue. Somehow she catches the eye of Earl of Essex, and life changes for her.

It seemed like a
Jun 08, 2012 Kiran rated it did not like it
This book was close to torture. I forced myself to finish reading it; took me ages despite it being quite a short novel. The language / writing style I just found quite stiff and really hard to engage with. It was a slog. The main reason I persevered was that I actually did like the characters and the premise of the novel - it's unusual I think for Robert Cecil (as opposed to the old Lord Burghley) to ever be a central character in a book about Elizabethan England. There probably are some people ...more
Jan 09, 2014 Mira rated it really liked it
This was a first for me! After decades of avoiding bodice rippers I finally succumbed to this after a friend recommended it. Totally not my style (no spaceships / aliens / unicorns or magic for start) and also it was a story told around historical events which normally I would avoid like the plague. (No pun intended - this is not about the black plague.)

This is the story of a young French orphaned disguised as a boy living in London who unwittingly stumbles into the middle of a circle of secrets
I'm partial to a bit of historical fiction and my tastes are quite catholic running as they do from Hilary Mantel to Emily Purdy via Rosemary Sutcliff, Jean Plaidy and Philippa Gregory. Sarah Gristwood, like Alison Weir, is a historian turned novelist and I've enjoyed her non-ficton ['Arbella' and 'Elizabeth and Leicester'].

I was enjoying this tale of a cross-dressing female Huguenot gardener unwittingly involved in Tudor espionage until I came to pg 130 and the following sentence:

'As her ladies
Feb 21, 2012 Jane rated it really liked it
That lovely cover caught me first, and when I read an opening that was just as beautiful I was completely captivated.

“Sometimes I think I can feel the garden, like a prickle of awareness on my skin, as if sight – and smell, and sound – were not enough and I want to wrap myself in it, like you wrap yourself in fur on a winter’s day. I suppose those times should come most often in the mayday, the hay day. when the roses and the fleur du luce and the honeysuckle are in flower. When, in the knot gar
Diane Warrington
Nov 04, 2015 Diane Warrington rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
This would have been more interesting if the focus had stayed on Jeanne as she lives her life in disguise as a boy. From the persecution in the Low Countries to London it would have been good to follow her journey. All the other characters seem to suss she is not a boy anyhow. And as for the supposed liaison with Essex, that was too far fetched. Jeanne just becomes a pretend third person voice to tell the story of Robert Cecil, Essex and Elizabeth 1. The ending was weird she changes into a dress ...more
Hiep Huynh
Aug 28, 2013 Hiep Huynh rated it did not like it
This is not a very good review because I didn't get very far into the book. Although that does say a lot. I mean, I made myself finish the first Twilight novel even though I wanted to punch myself in the face. This book was the opposite. Instead of being frustrating and silly, it was mind numbingly boring.

The pretty cover, the 'historical fiction' label and the blurb made it sound very enticing. Instead, it was slow, stiff and just didn't pull me in.

To sum up my rating, I did not like it.
Tanya Negrey
May 02, 2014 Tanya Negrey rated it did not like it
Ugh. I got about 3/4 of the way through then finally took it back to the library. Definitely not worth the late fees of $2.60. Disjointed, superficial, no strong story line. Painful.
Very disappointing, as the premise of the book-a young woman (Jeanne) posing as a male in late 15-th/early-16th century England-is a good one. I'd love to see this idea done with the storyline flushed out first, and with qualities to the characters that make the reader care about them.
For instance, nothing is writt
Aug 28, 2012 Stacey rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I generally love historical novels, especially about this particular time period. I even really liked the concept that Gristwood had chosen to explore.

Unfortunately I found this book incredibly difficult to get through. The writing style didn't flow well for me, and I found most of the characters rather flat. In the end, I forced myself through this on the sheer desire to want to be able to pick up a new book.
May 03, 2014 Ariana rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This wasn't what I expected at all, and that would've been okay had I received something different to enjoy. Instead, I was confused and bored; I only read to the end because I didn't want to leave it unfinished.

I didn't realize until a little bit in that there were multiple characters (and it wasn't solid in my mind until that one scene that was repeated in the POV after it) even though there were headings that stated who the POV was from. The characters didn't have their own voices, either – a
Jan 07, 2013 Arna rated it it was ok
A disappointing way to start the year's reading. An interesting premise to re-tell a story that has been told a thousand times, but it just never got underway. Disjointed, often implausible. It was impossible for me to understand Jeanne's motivations, and I really couldn't be bothered even tring,
Karen Brooks
Jan 12, 2014 Karen Brooks rated it liked it
A beautifully written tale of cross-dressing, machinations, plots and self-discovery set during the last years of Queen Elizabeth the first's reign. Told from three different points of view (the young woman, Jeanne, a religious refugee in England, one of Elizabeth's ladies-in-waiting and Secretary of State, Robert Cecil), it covers the decline in relations between Elizabeth and the ebullient and erratic Earl of Essex.

Initially, the story grabbed me and I thoroughly enjoyed the gardening metapho
Vikas Datta
Jun 05, 2014 Vikas Datta rated it really liked it
Another compelling read that brings to life the shadowy world of plots and conspiracies in the closing years of the Glorious Queen of England's reign. A narrative structure switching between multiple characters is a difficult gambit to pull of successfully but Ms Gristwood succeeds most admirably. A cast of characters would have helped though. The narrator is a inspiring creation and should not go waste after just one adventure...
Jo Barton
Aug 27, 2011 Jo Barton rated it it was amazing
It's refreshing to have a book about Elizabethan England that doesn't focus entirely upon Elizabeth the Queen.

This book follows the fortunes of Jeanne Musset, orphaned, and forced to flee the Low Countries as a small child, Jeanne lives her early life in London, disguised as a boy. As an adult, her exceptional talent for drawing botanical specimens will take her into the circle of the charismatic Earl of Essex, whose own meteoritic rise to glory is about to come to an end.
Beautifully written, th
Jul 16, 2014 Rachel rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I tried so hard to read this book. It started out well but quickly devolved into the tedious minutiae of life at court during the latter years of the reign of Elizabeth I. The novel presupposes a certain degree of familiarity with many of the key historical figures. People not already heavily steeped in the period may find this book confusing. The pacing was painfully slow and I made it about about a third of the way through before I gave up waiting for something to happen. Moving on to somethin ...more
Natalie Joan
Feb 20, 2015 Natalie Joan rated it liked it
Interesting story, but a bit convoluted in the telling. Not sure if I just needed to know the history better, or if it could have used fewer narrators. Not really a fan of writing in present tense.
Maureen Grenier
May 27, 2013 Maureen Grenier rated it it was amazing
I think “The Girl in the Mirror” by Sarah Gristwood is a wonderful book. The story is set in the Elizabethan Era and revolves around the conflict between the ageing Queen and the ambitious Earl of Essex. This is a fictional account supported by historical fact and the author lets us know at the end of the book what parts are based on supposition. We follow the story through the adventures of a young female gardener-artist, disguised as a male, which means we are also treated to information about ...more
Margaret Jones
What I liked most about this book was the mix of fiction and fact. The fact that in between each section she put quotes from the people mentioned throughout the story.

I must say that the story itself about the relationship between Essex and Elizabeth was not one that particularly gripped me. I did like how the story was told through the eyes of a girl posing as a boy who becomes a clerk in the court of Elizabeth. I did also like the way the reader always know who was telling the story and when.
Amanda Stanzel
I really didn't care for this book. It was slow and hard to get through.
Jan 02, 2013 Karen rated it liked it
I particularly like historical fiction based in this period and although this was enjoyable , there are far better novels out there. I felt that the voices of the three narrators were too similar, both in language and thought.
However as I love gardens I did like the how the story was entwined with plant references.
So, if you get given this book and have some to relax - go ahead and enjoy it, just don't rush out to buy it especially!
Actual rating 3.5 stars.

Interesting in that it focuses on one particular episode in the reign of Elizabeth I - Essex's downward spiral. Also interesting in that it is from the point of view of a commoner on the fringes, and even more so a girl masquerading as a boy.

I liked how the garden/flower theme was carried through the book, with descriptions of the changing seasons and weather all done in terms of flowers.
A young immigrant fleeing the religious wars on the Continent becomes caught up with the machinations of the house of Robert Cecil, spymaster to Elizabeth I and witnesses the fall of the Earl of Essex. This is Gristwood's first novel but her credentials as a historian show with the details of the court and events. While not great, this was still an enjoyable read.
Jan 08, 2012 Emily rated it really liked it
It was a really interesting book. After reading a lot about the same time in history it starts to get a tad boring. However, this shows a different side to the time when Elizabeth I was on the throne. You see the story through the eyes of a girl who is dressed as a boy. I recommend it!
Aug 29, 2011 Ginny rated it liked it
Sarah Gristwood is no Philippa Gregory (yet) but this is a good first novel. I am admittedly fascinated by the Tudors, British history and a self-professed Anglophile so I am a wee bit biased but the world she creates is believable and you will become wrapped up in the intrigue.
Jul 24, 2016 Cindy rated it did not like it
What a time waster! A young girl loses her mother so must live as a boy to survive. All takes place while Queen Elizabeth I is reigning. All politics. Hung in thinking the story would be interesting when she actually starts living as a girl/women. Last for 4 pages.
Sep 20, 2013 Jenny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Apart from my earlier comments i really liked this book.
It helped because i read the notes at the end first giving the background.
Sarah writes beautifully and her first novel is a credit.
I hope another is on the way.
I am preparing to read Blood Sisters now.
Kim Henry
Aug 24, 2015 Kim Henry rated it did not like it
DNF. This book just isn't doing it for me. It's boring. I skimmed ahead to see if it gets any better but it doesn't seem to. I wanted to give it a chance before just giving up and I think I really did.
Just wasn't my cup of tea.
Jan 01, 2015 Serena rated it really liked it
An intriguing story, told by multiple viewpoints, of the end of the Elizabethian empire. Gristwood knows her material, and her essay at the book, "Elizabeth and Essex" is fantastic, as well as the historical notes.
Jan 02, 2012 Lyn rated it really liked it
An interesting insight into the final years of Queen Elizabeth's reign. Well written and engaging.
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Sinopsis en Español // Synopsis in Spanish 1 2 Feb 15, 2015 06:53PM  
  • The Painted Lady
  • The Queen's Sorrow
  • Two Queens in One Isle
  • The Queen's Promise
  • Cavalier Queen
  • Elizabeth and Essex
  • In a Treacherous Court (Susanna Horenbout and John Parker, #1)
  • Mistress of Mourning
  • The Queen's Handmaiden
  • All the Queen's Players
  • The Sumerton Women
  • Diana the Huntress (The Six Sisters, #5)
  • The Queen's Pleasure
  • Lady Jane Grey
  • The Queen's Secret
  • At the King's Pleasure  (Secrets of the Tudor Court, #4 )
  • Dear Heart, How Like You This?
  • Blood Royal
Sarah Gristwood attended Oxford and then worked as a journalist specializing in the arts and women's issues. She has contributed to The Times, Guardian, Independent, and Evening Standard.
More about Sarah Gristwood...

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