Spotlight: The Watchers by Stephen Alford

Spotlight is my new regular Saturday feature in which I highlight a book I really enjoyed or am eagerly waiting for.  In this case, it’s a great nonfiction book about spying in the reign of Elizabeth I called The Watchers.

The Watchers by Stephen AlfordIn a Europe aflame with wars of religion and dynastic conflicts, Elizabeth I came to a throne encircled by menace.  To the Catholic powers of Europe, England was a heretic pariah state and her queen was “Jezebel,” the bastard offspring of Henry VIII’s illegal second marriage.  The pope denounced her; the kings of France and Spain conspired to destroy her, their plans culminating in the Spanish Armada.  Many of the Queen’s own subjects plotted her overthrow—or her assassination.

[Full blurb available on my review.]

Since The Mad Reviewer is YA (or at least adult novels that can be read by teens), I don’t get to read nearly as much nonfiction as I would like.  That’s why I’m so glad Bloomsbury Publishing contacted me about reviewing Stephen Alford’s second book.

Although the writing style was a bit choppy at times because Alford jumped all over the place to fit all the spies into his narrative, The Watchers is one of the better nonfiction books I’ve read.  Despite some choppy sections, overall it’s well written and engaging, but most of all, informative.  The amount of research that went into The Watchers must have been staggering, and Alford has an entire section of the book dedicated to citing sources.  I thought I knew a bit about the reign of Elizabeth I and the role spies played in it, but I really had no idea.

What I thought was unusual was that Alford stayed pretty neutral throughout the book.  He explained things from the points of view of the Protestant English spies and from the points of view of the Catholics who worked to overthrow Elizabeth or simply survive.  We see the plots by Catholics to kill Elizabeth I, but we also get to see the horrors any captured Catholics (or suspected Catholics) faced.  Balance is important in nonfiction and Alford certainly achieved it.

If you’re looking for an informative but engaging read, I highly recommend picking up The Watchers.

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