It tells the story of Amy Robsart who was secretly married to the Earl of Leicester who kept her a virtual prisoner because he did not want Queen Elizabeth to find out about his marriage. The Earl of Leicester and the Earl of Sussex were competing for the queen's favour. The author describes this novel as A Romance and the theme of love is certainly important but other themes also feature including ambition, greed, loyalty and religion.
Scott certainly captures the essence of the age and so at times this novel reads like a Shakespearean play. Much of the novel takes place at Kenilworth Castle which is the setting for various entertainments laid on for the queen and her court. At times it seems as if all the characters are actors in a pageant. There are a number of interesting characters in the book including courtiers, nobles, servants, Wayland the Smith and Alasco the alchemist. The famous incident involving Raleigh and his cloak is included in the novel. I particularly liked the character of Wayland the Smith who provided an important link throughout the book.
Although I found the novel quite hard to get into, it is worth persevering as the story is well told and the author's descriptions of life in Elizabethan England are excellent. I particularly liked the descriptions of court life as the courtiers all vie for the queen's favour. As Alexander says in the introduction, "most (readers) will probably be content to take away from this novel an unforgettable picture of a brilliant society with a 'melancholy tale' at it rotten heart."