Review: The King’s Deception (Cotton Malone #8) by Steve Berry

Everyone knows Elizabeth I was one of the most influential rulers of England. She defeated the Armada, never married and was thus known as the virgin queen.

But what if what you thought you knew about her was all wrong? What is she, wasn’t really a she after all? What if Elizabeth I was a man in drag?

That’s the controversial stance that Steve Berry explores in his exciting new spy novel, The King’s Deception.

Cotton Malone has more or less retired from the world of international intrigue, espionage, and spy games and now runs a second hand bookstore in Denmark. His fifteen year old son, Gary, has just learned a devastating secret from his mother and wants some time away from her to process it.

Cotton returns to the states to collect Gary and return to Denmark for the holiday season when his long time friend and former boss at the CIA, Stephanie Nelle, calls in a favor….help transport a fugitive back to England on his way to Denmark.

He agrees and when they land in England, Cotton suddenly finds himself right in the middle of an attack on the fugitive. The young fugitive, Ian Dunne, has witnessed a murder of a secret agent on the Tube a couple of weeks earlier, he also happened to lift a flash drive from the dead man and now someone wants Ian dead and that flash drive for themselves.

Suddenly, Gary is taken with Ian by an unknown group of assailants, leaving Cotton wonder what exactly is going on. Both MI6 and the CIA are involved somehow that much is clear, but then there is the mysterious Daedalus Society that seems to be guarding a secret that could scandalize all of the United Kingdom.

While Cotton struggles to sort out who is involved in what, how, and why…there is another issue complicating matters for him. In Scotland, the authorities plan on releasing a Libyan terrorist who was responsible for the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing, due to humanitarian reasons.

This not only upsets many Americans as well as a number of Scots and Englishman, but for some reason, the British government will not intervene and halt the release. The only thing that might make the Brits deal would be Operation King’s Deception.

So what does a CIA operation have in common with Tudor England and Queen Elizabeth I you might ask? King Henry VIII might not have left England with a male heir but he did leave behind a treasure and a salacious secret that threatens to uproot the entire empire, even modern day Britain!

This is my first ‘historic thriller’ I’ve read since Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code. If you are a fan of Robert Langdon and Brown’s other novels then you will adore Cotton Malone!

I enjoyed Steve Berry’s writing style. It was quick, direct, and to the point. He didn’t spend too long on ‘the back story’ but provided enough info so that I could follow along with the series (this is the 8th book in the Cotton Malone series). He got right into the thick of things.

One of the things I loved most was I never felt like I knew what was really going on. I never really know who was on which side and who was a ‘double agent’ or who was being truthful. I thought this really added a lot to the overall story and theme of the novel. That feeling of distrust with some of the characters made it so much more suspenseful for me.

The story alternates between a couple of different character POVs and some of them are unreliable narrators. For example, Blake Antrim was a CIA operative and his POV was completely unreliable but yet at times made sense and I found myself wondering what his motive was and what his position truly was in this whole story. Very compelling and a great way to keep the reader on their toes!

Cotton and the other principal characters were relatable and likeable. I loved that Cotton had his flaws, he wasn’t perfect but yet he was real.

The controversial storyline that Berry presents was very intriguing and believable. I found myself questioning everything I knew about Queen Elizabeth I and honestly by the end of the novel I was convinced she was a man in disguise! What a wonderfully intriguing and compelling argument! Berry clearly knows his history and not just Tudor history but Stuart and Irish history as well. I was blown away by the historic detail and suspense of the novel.

The only thing I struggled with was the Libyan terrorist plot line. I realize this was the catalyst to bring the entire host of characters and story together but I didn’t feel like enough time was spent on developing it completely. In some ways I thought the novel would have been just as good without this piece.

I have never really gotten into the historic thriller sub genre or spy novels and I don’t really know why because when I read them, I love them! After reading Berry’s novel I am completely sold on the sub genre. I can’t wait to pick up more of his novels and perhaps fill in the back story of Cotton Malone since I’m starting the series so late!

If you are looking for a “keep ‘em guessing”, nail biting, suspenseful novel full of spy games and history then this is the novel for you! Berry spun a thrilling tale to be sure! He seamlessly wove history, conspiracy, international intrigue, and controversy into a solid blend of fact and fiction.

As a side note, Berry will be participating the ThrillerFest VIII happening in NYC from July 10-13! If you are in the area you should check it out! It promises the be the most thrilling event in literary history!

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: The King’s Deception (Cotton Malone #8) by Steve Berry

  • Kindle Edition, 368 pages
  • Published June 11th 2013 by Ballantine Books (first published January 1st 2013)
  • Review copy provided by: Publisher for ThrillerFest VIII blog tour participation, in exchange for an honest review

This book counts toward: NA

  • Hosted by: NA
  • Books for Challenge Completed: NA

Recommendation: 4.5 out of 5

Genre: Historic thriller, thriller, suspense, spy novel, historic fiction, contempo lit, Tudor lit

Memorable lines/quotes: 

I’ve been in love. And I have broken a heart and had my own broken. Never, ever is it only one person’s fault.

7 thoughts on “Review: The King’s Deception (Cotton Malone #8) by Steve Berry

  1. Nice review. I agree with you on the Bisley boy aspect being more believable than the US going to such extremes (and what can be more extreme than causing your biggest ally to lose credential) to stop an ailing and dying prisoner…nah. Listening to Berry being interviewed (archived interview on the book report radio show’s website) by Elaine Charles, he also said: “it’s entirely believable”. I personally don’t think this is his best book, but still – I cannot wait for the next one.

  2. Definitely not one of his best particularly in the “what’s real & what’s fiction” part. He really, really cheats on this one: just to name 3 points where he either misdirects, doesn’t tell the whole truth or outright lies re: Elizabeth: One: The bit about the white makeup. Berry neglects to tell us that ALL the aristocratic ladies wore that white makeup to cover up scars (smallpox, acne, etc.) and also to have the white, white complexion that was in fashion. Two: The bit about how Elizabeth the Queen was never examined by doctors. Perhaps so (although she was definitely examined when she had smallpox) Incidentally, according to various visitors to her court, Elizabeth didn’t wear that white makeup during Mary’s reign. Additionally Berry never bothers to deal with the fact that when Elizabeth was under her sister Mary’s thumb she was definitely examined by Mary’s own physicians when Elizabeth was avoiding coming to Court by claiming she was ill; Mary sent her own doctors to make sure. And during that same time period (5 years) most of Elizabeth’s ladies were replaced by Mary’s choices – some of whom were clearly spies for Mary trying to detect possible treason. And of course there’s always the matter of Robert Dudley who would have most certainly noticed if Elizabeth were not female!

  3. I am reading the King’s Deception and the plot twist about Eliz I is not believable. I have read many, many books on her and this doesn’t fit, that she was a man! First she had a life long romantic relationship with Robert Dudley, knew him from when they were young children. Her biographers only say they don’t know if they ever actually had sex. But surely he would have noticed the switch. Also, doctors did examine her during her 30s-50s to make sure she could produce children, as she was being courted by many princes. She was a vibrant, attractive woman who loved to flirt and loved to dance. That’s what i got from reading many biographies, so I don’t buy this idea for a minute. It diminishes a really great queen.

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