The Queen's Man Characters
by Sharon Kay Penman

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Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The Queen's Man's most obvious theme, like that of most mystery fiction, is that murder requires an accounting. Violent death disrupts the social order. To set things right, such events must be investigated, and murderers made to pay for their crime. This almost universal moral law is shown by the involvement of the lawmen Luke and Jonas in the case. Even without the Queen's interest in the matter, it would be their duty to investigate. But because grave matters of state may be involved, London's sheriff gives the investigation extra manpower.

Behind this theme is another thread also common to mysteries: Things are not always what they seem. The importance of this theme is shown in the novel's very first scene, before the murder even occurs. Justin, who has been brought up to believe himself a foundling rescued by Aubrey de Quincy, Bishop of Chester, confronts the bishop. Hugh denies he is Justin's father until the young man asks him to swear it on a cross. Outraged that Aubrey never voluntarily told him, and always dismissed questions about his dead mother, Justin charges away. He loses his squire's position and goes off in search of new employment. The ambush he witnesses along the road leads to the murder investigation and to many more hidden identities and motives.

Some of these are typical "red herrings." For example, conflicts simmer beneath the facade of the murder victim's family, conflicts which might give several relatives motives for murder. The goldsmith's daughter Jonet and his journeyman Miles are secret lovers, but Gervase was determined for Jonet to make a "good match" with an old baron. Gervase's son Thomas had quarreled with him over the younger man's determination to join the Benedictine order. His brother Guy just acts nervous, rather than grieving over Gervase's death. And the goldsmith himself is revealed to have had a mistress, Ardith, who is planning to marry the sheriff's sergeant Luke.

In the royal household Justin finds alliances and secrets that are even harder to unravel. He distrusts Prince John from the beginning; Eleanor's lady in waiting Claudine describes him as "the prince of darkness." But Queen Eleanor and her retinue, who are helpful and gracious to Justin, still operate on levels of political intrigue that he does not understand. Near the end of the book, he discovers that Claudine is a spy for John, or perhaps a double agent. Durand, the knight whom Justin thought was tracking him under John's orders, is revealed to be guarding him for the Queen.

Justin, who never had a real family, soon loses his idyllic image of normal family life. The Fitz Randolphs turn out to have bonds of love as well as guilty secrets, and even the Plantagenets have some of both. But Justin is so shocked by having his fantasies punctured that he does not see any of this until very late in the story. Finally, the murder's solution again reflects that "things are not what they seem." Gervase was not killed by a relative, nor because he carried a politically sensitive letter. He died a victim of...

(The entire section is 781 words.)