Maid of Secrets: Maids of Honor, Book 1

Common Sense Media says

Engrossing Elizabethan tale of murder and intrigue.

Age(i)

2
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11
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13
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17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Educational value

Kids will learn about many aspects of Elizabethan life, from lowly street performers to the queen herself. Unfamiliar vocabulary ("gibbet," "kirtle") might get kids to look in a dictionary. Spanish phrases pop up rarely and are usually slightly incorrect (ex. "¿Quieres que matar a ella también?" should be "¿Quiere que mato..."). Characters speak in a  modern way that gives rise to some anachronisms, but this keeps the material entertaining and accessible.

Positive messages

A pickpocket by trade, Meg is ultimately trained in typical espionage arts such as fighting and how to kill. But she also learns to read and begins to learn some Spanish, and she emphasizes that she'd never be able to bring herself to really kill someone. Along the way she discovers the importance of loyalty, truth, friendship, trust, and love. Marriage is portrayed as a prison for women and is something Meg hopes to avoid.

Positive role models

Meg is brave, resourceful, unfraid to act, and eager to learn. Despite her sketchier past and the pressures of high-stakes espionage, she knows she's incapable of killing another person. She refuses to leave someone injured, even at great risk to herself. She holds her own with everyone from the queen and her highest-ranked courtiers to the handsome young men she encounters along the way.

Violence

Some methods of killing are described in detail (garroting, strangulation). Fights and injuries are described, usually in some detail but without gore -- though blood does make an appearance several times. A mutilated murder victim is described in fair detail but without gore: Readers learn that her eyes, ears, and tongue were cut off, but the acts aren't described.

Sex

Several long kisses and a brief instance of making out (above the waist and over clothing). An instance of a tongue-to-earlobe move is described, but the book focuses on Meg managing her physical and emotional responses to these romantic encounters, including learning that kissing and flirting can be used to manipulate people.

Language

"Damn" is used once. A fellow spy calls Meg a slut, and the queen is referred to twice as a whore.

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Adults drink ale and wine at lavish court events. Meg finds a way to avoid drinking more than a few sips of wine that has a sleeping drug in it (and knocks out all the other ladies in waiting).

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Maid of Secrets brings the Elizabethan era to life through colorful and realistic characters, palace intrigue, budding romance, and a murder mystery. Violence is described with some detail; overall, there's not much gore, but on a few occasions blood does spurt, seep, or stain. Courtly espionage is the main focus, with the 17-year-old heroine navigating many tricky situations with pluck and great inner strength. Handsome and charismatic young men provide a framework for learning to manage physical and emotional responses to first romantic encounters (kissing, some clothed making out).

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What's the story?

Palace intrigue takes center stage as an orphaned pickpocket finds herself, at 17, suddenly taken from her world to be a spy for the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth I. Heroine Meg must neutralize threats of overthrow from Catholic Spain, solve the murder of a young maid of honor, find out who's responsible for mysterious disruptions at court, and cope with handsome young men who may or may not be on her side. And it all takes place in the highly restricted world of a royal court where what you see may not be what you get.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

Putting espionage and romance up against the colorful and realistic backdrop of the Elizabethan age draws MAID OF SECRETS' readers into a fascinating historical era. Seen through the eyes of a newly arrived outsider, we learn the perils of royal intrigue right along with Meg. Kids will enjoy the clever solutions that people came up with to solve problems without modern technology (like an alarm clock that uses dripping water or tying intricate knots to see whether someone's opened a package). That said, modernized language keeps the material easy to access, so don't expect spot-on historical accuracy.

Meg is an appealing, whip-smart heroine whose struggles with friendship, truth, and loyalty make her easy for kids to identify with and admire. Parents will appreciate the value she places on educating herself and how her high self esteem and creative thinking help her navigate some tough problems. Planned as the first installment in a series, this satisfying mystery is likely to have readers looking forward to many more adventures.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the kind of life Queen Elizabeth really had. How was her life better or worse than the average person's? Would you want to be queen or king?

  • When we first meet Meg, she doesn't know how to read. What will learning do for her, as both a spy and as a young woman? What must life be like today for someone who can't read?

  • How does the book portray violence? Do you think it's accurate/appropriate for the era and subjec matter? Could the story be told less violently?

  • How much of the book do you think is historically accurate? How could you find out more?

Book details

Author:Jennifer McGowan
Genre:Historical Fiction
Topics:Adventures, Friendship, Great girl role models, History, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Simon & Schuster
Publication date:May 7, 2013
Number of pages:416
Available on:Hardback, iBooks, Kindle, Nook

This review of Maid of Secrets: Maids of Honor, Book 1 was written by

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About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Learning ratings

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  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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