During the pandemic lockdowns, my partner and I watched a particularly awful period drama set in the court of Mary, Queen of Scots. Historical liberties were taken with wild abandon (there was even a contemporary soundtrack) and I came out of it thoroughly entertained but none the wiser. It is, of course, not the first dramatic treatment on screen or the page. The swill abounds, enough to fill the palace troughs. Which is a roundabout way of saying, if there’s one story of royal intrigue, treachery, murder and general depravity that needed rescuing, it is Mary’s.
In Rizzio, Denise Mina drops us right into the thick of it, focusing on the murder of Mary’s trusted advisor and friend, David Rizzio, at the hands of her husband Lord Darnley and a mob of dastardly triple-crossers. It’s a tale that could have been stretched across multiple volumes but Mina has distilled it to perfection with stark, unflinching prose, and insight into the political machinations of the time that ensure immense depth beyond its brevity. An absolute highlight for me that, along with Jenni Fagan’s Hex, makes Polygon’s Darkland Tales one of the most exciting novella series I’ve read.
Rizzio by Denise Mina
Polygon Books, 2021
I thought it especially interesting as it was written with a crime novelist's eye, giving the story a tension and the action a continual forward thrust that, say, an historical novelist might not have used. At least not as effectively.
Looking forward to reading your Novella for Novella November 2026.