Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Book Review: Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

The court of Henry VIII is rife with intrigue, rivalries and romance - and none are better placed to understand this than the women at its heart.

Katherine Parr, widowed for the second time aged thirty-one, is obliged to return to court but, suspicious of the aging king and those who surround him, she does so with reluctance. Nevertheless, when she finds herself caught up in a passionate affair with the dashing and seductive Thomas Seymour, she believes she might finally be able to marry for love. But her presence at court has attracted the attentions of another...

Captivated by her honesty and intelligence, Henry Tudor has his own plans for Katherine and no one is in the position to refuse a proposal from the king. So with her charismatic lover dispatched to the continent, Katherine must accept the hand of the ailing egotistical monarch and become Henry's sixth wife - and yet she has still not quite given up on love.

My Review:
I won a copy of this book through Goodreads but all thoughts on the book are my own opinion based on reading it.

Katherine Parr comes to Court as a widow and is surprised to fall for the charms of the notorious player Thomas Seymour, who seems to return her feelings. Finally, Katherine has the chance to be with a man for love not duty-until King Henry VIII decides that he wants to have Katherine as his sixth wife, and saying no is not an option. Katherine is heartbroken but faces her destiny with dignity.

I've read a few novels about Katherine Parr and this is certainly one of the best. It's focus is on Katherine as a person, her hopes and fears and her passion for her stepchildren and the new religion. You actually feel as if you know her really well after reading this which says a lot about how how well the character is written. She goes to Court with her stepdaughter Meg, who is a timid young woman, and her feisty servant Dot. I really liked how the two young women from totally different social standings were so close to each other. Dot's own love affair is very much a background thread in this story but it was just as interesting as the main story.

Tudor writers can usually bend the story a bit to try and add new interest to a well known story and I really liked what the author chose to do. It is known that Katherine's second husband was accused by Henry of being a traitor during the Pilgrimage of Grace despite his insistence that he was forced to join the rebels for fear of their reprisals. This book talks of Katherine and Meg being raped by rebels at Snape Castle in the north, which greatly affects how they react to situations faced through the book. Meg's post traumatic stress is so sad to witness and I thought it was handled beautifully. The author also chose the twist of Katherine having to give birth to the baby of the rapist which died soon after. Her inability to get pregnant to Henry brings back thoughts of that dead baby and the trauma of the rape. It was a fascinating storyline which was used to show how this event shaped the lives of the three women. I really liked that.

The other female characters are excellent-Cat Brandon is feisty and loud, Anne Bassett jealosly trying to catch the King's eye while he is wooing Katherine, Katherine's devoted sister Anne who is loyal to her through all the troubles, Anne who is Edward Seymour's bitchy wife, and the martyr Anne Askew who dies for her beliefs. The great range of female characters with different virtues and vices is one of the reasons that I love Tudor books, and this book delivers big time on strong women.

The men are suitably bad! We see the portrayal of Henry slightly differently, having him confess to Katherine that the pain in his leg causes his uncontrollable rages. I liked seeing the manipulative Henry as a little more human in flashes through the book as I think it is a fair representation of what he was probably like at the time. Thomas Seymour is the slimy suitor who lurks in the background, waiting to get his hands on Katherine but by the time he does, his eyes are already on her stepdaughter Elizabeth. This book shies away from any indication that Seymour was poisoning his wife, like other books have. I have never believed this, as it would have meant poisoning a potential son which every man wants as an heir to his estates.

I found the style of writing to be easy to follow, entertaining and it flowed well. There is a build up of tension as Katherine's enemies seek to depose her and this made the plot quite gripping. It was an excellent example of a Tudor novel. I have already got a copy of the next book that the author has written featuring the Grey sisters at Queen Mary's Court, and I look forward to reading it.

Highly recommend this book to Tudor fans! 
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