Each of Henry VIII’s wives had a personal fate to be remembered by. Katherine Parr is remembered as the matronly one who took care of Henry and attemp...moreEach of Henry VIII’s wives had a personal fate to be remembered by. Katherine Parr is remembered as the matronly one who took care of Henry and attempted to further the Reformist cause (a portrayal which isn’t entirely correct) and then married the rogue Thomas Seymour. Elizabeth Femantle tells Katherine’s version of events in “Queen’s Gambit”.
“Queen’s Gambit” instantly opens with historical fluff and inaccuracies which sets the tone of a historical recreation novel versus an emphasis on accuracy. This is discouraging for those readers who seek more history than fiction in HF novels. On the other hand, Fremantle’s dialogue and text style is accurate with the times versus being modern and also carries a level of eloquence. However, this is off-put by an overemphasized effort towards flowery phrases and literary means, which falls short.
The plot of “Queen’s Gambit” is flat early on with a slow pace. The novel follows a heavy “As you know, Bob”- style meaning that pages pass with the characters merely recalling events or discussing other figures with a lack of any activity or actually “living” proceedings. This creates dull text and a slow story.
Speaking of characters; none seem properly introduced or developed which results in a thick veil when attempting to get to know them. Katherine feels far away which is disappointing as the novel is expected to reveal her inner thoughts and psyche. Fremantle’s portrayal of Katherine is tight and constrained while surprisingly, she is much more ‘loose’ with other characters such as Dot (Katherine’s maid) and even Henry. In fact, “Queen’s Gambit” is told through both Katherine and Dot’s eyes with Dot’s being more ‘real’ due to a more relaxed storytelling.
Elaborating on reality; “Queen’s Gambit” questions believability early on and suffers from development issues such as Katherine falling in love with Thomas Seymour after only one conversation with him (this is stretching it even in a world of courtly love). Fremantle therefore misses ample opportunities of event and character building, making the plot of “Queen’s Gambit” aloof.
“Queen’s Gambit” monumentally improves approximately half-way through upon Katherine’s marriage to Henry. Although there is still too much talk of activity versus partaking in it; the drama does increase. It seems that Fremantle gains some confidence as the story progresses. This strength continues as the plot thickens with a religious focus and Katherine’s reformist views. This plot focus is a refreshing take versus the romantic side of the story and encourages turning of the pages. However, Katherine is still not truly unveiled as a character and one doesn’t feel as though he/she truly ‘knows’ her.
Also positive is the historical accuracy of the smaller details such as court etiquette and decorum, sumptuary laws, decorations, etc. Although there are some errors such as the emphasis on Katherine having lice when the Tudors had fleas but lice was considered lowly and higher social classes did not generally have them.
An incident occurs three-quarters way through which is complete ludicrous and will anger readers striving for historical accuracy (sadly, general readers will believe this angle). Luckily, this is dropped rather quickly and not explored. Similarly, the ending of “Queen’s Gambit” is weaker than expected; still not truly presenting a true sense of Katherine but at least being quite accurate historically.
For less versed readers, Fremantle includes a character list and a list of important Tudor dates. Although helpful to the general reader, this would be better suited in the beginning and also supplemented with a thorough author’s note describing the historical liberties taken as this was barely addressed by Fremantle.
Extra Notes:Noticeable to readers is a lack of proper chapter breaks with each stretching far too long causing both a lag and an inability of the story to ‘breathe’. Also, the entire book addressing Katherine’s sister as “Sister Anne” is INCREDIBLY annoying.
Overall, “Queen’s Gambit” begins slowly with historical fluff but finds its footing and momentum, turning into a decent novel. Although one-dimensional storytelling and a lack of truly getting to know Katherine is maintained; Fremantle does include strong historical effects. One can see potential despite first-novel jitters so I would read Fremantle again to see how she fairs. “Queen’s Gambit” isn’t terrible but not a masterpiece, either. It is worth reading for those interested in Henry’s wives and the lesser focused on: Katherine Parr.
I was torn between 2 or 3 and went with 3 so perhaps 2.5(less)
The sisters of Henry VIII – Margaret and Mary – are much overshadowed by their legendary brother even though these ladies were princesses and Queens i...moreThe sisters of Henry VIII – Margaret and Mary – are much overshadowed by their legendary brother even though these ladies were princesses and Queens in their own rights. Nancy Lenz Harvey explores the Tudor sisters in, “The Rose and the Thorn: The Lives of Mary and Margaret Tudor”.
Harvey mentions in her preface that she attempted to have “the weight of the narrative to be carried in the words of Margaret and Mary” by including as many letters and writings from their own hands in the text as possible. This sounds exciting and illuminating as nothing reveals the inner psyche of historical figures from centuries bygone more than primary writings. Sadly, “The Rose and the Thorn” fails in being riveting.
Harvey is guilty of being a good writer but not one who should pretend to be a historian (she was an English professor). Similar to her book on Elizabeth of York, “The Rose and the Thorn” waxes poetic in overly-exaggerated, flowery detail (example: “The city was wet with the tears of its citizenary”). Basically, Harvey mentions one solid fact and then writes an opinionated fictional narrative for a page until mentioning another fact. She is like a politician who blumbers on and on but isn’t actually saying much. This would make for a great historical fiction novel but results in a weak historical text rife with speculation and assumptions presented as facts.
“The Rose and the Thorn” fails to truly illuminate the Tudor sisters. Much of what is discusses is surrounding information versus traversing on the ladies (and what is mentioned sounds like an epitaph). Harvey focuses more on superficial descriptions (‘dumpy’ Margaret jealous of beautiful Mary) than anything else. On a positive note, “The Rose and the Thorn” intertwines the stories of the sisters showing what happened to each at the same time (for a macro view) instead of presenting individual biographies which would run the risk of jumping back and forth in chronology.
It isn’t until slightly past the halfway point that Harvey strengthens a bit on the historical front. Even though Mary and Margaret still aren’t thoroughly revealed; some light is shed onto their relationship with Henry VIII. Not to mention, the debacles with Scotland are well detailed, with the reader becoming very clear on why Henry stood against Scotland the way he did. Sadly, Harvey still peppers the text with such phrases as, “The sheer magnificence of it all was enough to make the heart of the Queen of Scotland ache” and when “the two hundred dishes began to pass; Margaret found each delicacy salted with bitterness”. These are emotionally descriptive but absolutely deserve no space inside of a supposed academic, history piece.
The conclusion of “The Rose and the Thorn” is devoid of anything memorable except for Harvey (once again) emphasizing her love for Mary and distaste for Margaret. It is definitely not a strong ending. This is followed by some notes and bibliography which is surprising because the text is so exaggerated and almost fictional.
Not much more can be said about “The Rose and the Thorn” but to skip it. Harvey’s writing in general is not very academic (this is also the case with her book on Elizabeth of York) but this one is ridiculously speculative, reads like a novel, and does not reveal anything about Mary and Margaret which even a new Tudor doesn’t already know. Harvey merely stirs up frustration and her book is a waste of time. Skip! (less)
Although Peter Hammond’s “The Tower of London” is quite possibly a pamphlet/ program distributed to tourists; its glorious illustrations and insightfu...moreAlthough Peter Hammond’s “The Tower of London” is quite possibly a pamphlet/ program distributed to tourists; its glorious illustrations and insightful history still provides an enjoyable, quick read for Anglophiles.
“The Tower of London” opens with an overall history recap of the Tower of London from the first stones ordered by William the Conqueror to modern-day tourism. Although this introduction is beautifully supplemented by colorful illustrations and photographs, it is a brief overview: simply written (easy enough for middle-aged children) and thus lacking an overemphasis of detail. However, even without extensive depth, it still garners interest and prepares the reader for the second section of “The Tower of London”.
Hammond’s second portion, titled “The Buildings of the Tower”, dives into a closer portrait account of each section of the Tower (individual towers, wards, etc). Hammond presents various facets of information from the conception of the White Tower to floor plans, history to current occupants, and even the materials (types of stones) used. This detail is not cumbersome and instead brings the Tower to life along with the illustrations.
Although highly informative, “The Tower of London” is purely a factual presentation and is therefore not necessarily an entertaining reading in a narrative sense. The text lacks character or wit, however; it is a wealth of information for those interested in the topic (basically, it is very academic and reads like a school book).
The main highlight is the two-page centerfold of the entire Tower complex with each building and portion well-labeled. This centerfold shows the grandiosity of the Tower and is designed to impress the reader while providing a “go-to” illustration when reading the text.
A major complaint against “The Tower of London” was the mention of Jane Grey’s death being merely due to suffering “for her descent from Henry VII which made her, despite herself, a rival to Mary” versus indicating her “Nine Days Queen” reputation.
The end of “The Tower of London” is quite strong describing the many tourist attractions and events at the tower (the Royal Armouries, Crown Jewels, the Changing of the Guards, Ceremony of the Keys, the “Ravenmaster”, etc); soliciting excitement from the reader. I am even more excited to visit the Tower than I was before (I didn’t know that was possible)! Overall, “The Tower of London” is an informative guide which will satisfy a tourist or Anglophile for a quick read or browse. (less)
Several books exist depicting life during the time of Queen Elizabeth. Adding to the list, A.N. Wilson attempts to stick out in the crowd with his wor...moreSeveral books exist depicting life during the time of Queen Elizabeth. Adding to the list, A.N. Wilson attempts to stick out in the crowd with his work, “The Elizabethans”.
A.N. Wilson’s “The Elizabethans” is a contradiction in writing which results in my having contradictory views. What do I mean by this? The book’s identity and “purpose” tends to be a bit lost in the overly-ambitious work. Initially, Wilson provides an overview of the struggles and aggravations between the English and Irish and its impact on modern schools of thought. This is heavy academic writing and can instantly deter some readers. Once past this, the book progresses more into the realm which the title suggests: England during the time of Queen Elizabeth.
In a unique way, “The Elizabethans” doesn’t simply divide chapters into sections based on such topics as clothing, food, or occupations like most Elizabethan period studies; but instead tells the ways of England during the era though the eyes of famous figures which provides psychological and philosophical insight. However, it is recommended that the reader already be familiar with these figures as Wilson doesn’t provide introductions.
“The Elizabethans” is very dense with a satisfying amount of sources; however, it is overwhelming in narrative flow. Some history books are entertaining while others are best used as source material for the authors of the entertaining books. Wilson’s work is more a source material and not categorized as easy-to-read. At the same time, Wilson contradicts and attempts to use overly familiar terms at times such as calling Henry VIII a “monster” and Mary’s religious victims as having been “roasted”. Furthermore, Wilson often speaks directly to the reader asserting that he isn’t trying to prove specific points and yet at the same time, he often makes biased comments in a forceful, unarguable tone. Cocky or an expert? You decide.
The scope in “The Elizabethans” is well detailed and all areas in her realm are covered. Yet, I didn’t notice any new information in terms of history. The “new” views were academic debates from Wilson regarding the philosophical fronts which, albeit, are sometimes interesting. Basically, the book is not what one would expect from the way it is marketed which can result in disappointment.
Both the tone and voice in “The Elizabethans” isn’t consistent which causes an up and down flow of equally up and down bouts of boredom and entertainment which some chapters diving into more details than others (the chapter “The New Learning” was quite interesting). The tone changes too often (scholarly, journalistic, and even conversational) while the sections can be disjointed and jump around too much in tangents. “The Elizabethans” also has a social history aspect to it which cuts into the scholarly side and makes it more accessible but adds to the style inconsistencies.
This is certainly the one book to read if you want a one-stop shop for all Elizabethan details making it useful for those readers new to Elizabeth. Sadly though, its overabundance of information makes details hard to retain and slower reading is optimal. Oddly enough, once of the more “touching” chapters was on Mary Stuart versus Elizabeth. Conversely, in this chapter (and many others), Wilson exhibited high school-like quips which aren’t necessary in his writing and cause questioning of his credibility (example: “But the hair, like so much about her, was fake” ). Is that necessary to interject?
My main issue are the blaring errors which Wilson (who is remarked as being an “award-winning biographer and celebrated novelist”) so pointedly expressed as truths. Wilson states that Henry VIII died from Syphilis (when it has been argued that this is incorrect because a purchase of mercury—used to care for the disease—is not in many of his account books). Wilson also declares that Elizabeth wished to be buried with her sister Mary and have the tomb with the famous epitaph erected to show her views on religious apathy and tolerance… when this was actually the work of King James.
Wilson did use an extensive amount of source material (although it was 95% secondary) and also featured two sections of color plates (in black and white--- color would have been preferred).
“The Elizabethans” is recommended if conducting research Queen Elizabeth or her reign (although be careful with the blaring errors) but overall, there are much better books available on the topic. I wouldn’t necessarily read from this author again.(less)
Although the love affair between Queen Elizabeth and Robert Dudley is well-known; I generally find myself “rooting” for the underdog which in this cas...moreAlthough the love affair between Queen Elizabeth and Robert Dudley is well-known; I generally find myself “rooting” for the underdog which in this case was Dudley’s ill-fated wife, Amy Robsart. Her death – whether from breast cancer, suicide, or murder—is one of my favorite unsolved mysteries. Brandy Purdy explores this love triangle in “The Queen’s Pleasure”.
The first 200 pages of “The Queen’s Pleasure” are told through Amy’s eyes alternating chapters between the day of her death and of her memories of her marriage to Robert. Although this back-and-forth can become tiresome; Amy truly comes alive which is refreshing due to the lack of books focusing on her viewpoint. Sadly, however, her characterization stresses her as a “country bumpkin” as though Purdy is trying to convince the reader that Amy wasn’t good enough for Robert.
In fact, “The Queen’s Pleasure” suffers wholly from stereotypes with none of the characters escaping the role they are expected to play: Robert is rude, crude, and ambitious while his brother Guildford is a spoiled mama’s boy as Elizabeth is emotionless and selfish (although her arc evolves). Although these typecast roles create ample drama within the novel; they are one-dimensional for the readers hoping to explore new sides to the figures.
From a historical context, “The Queen’s Pleasure” is rather accurate with facts while the historical liberties employed are believable and overall enrich the story. Although, there are fluffy sections which feel like a pathetic romance novel. Furthermore, Purdy has “slip-ups” in dialogue which are too modern or posed in a way which would never occur.
Purdy’s writing style is very figurative, literary, and illustrative; focusing more on thoughts and emotions versus dialogue. This creates a deeper and richer novel than expected with less fluff. On the contrary, there are many areas which feel forced and dragged out with allusions stretching pages with little movement or action resulting in the reader’s propensity to scan and not miss anything within the plot.
Another frustrating factor is the mention of buttercups and apples on EVERY page. Readers will come to hate buttercups! Purdy clearly added some of the events strictly for novelty (ghost monks, Robert and Amy having sex in front of his brothers in the tower, Amy masturbating in a public bath, voodoo-type wax dolls). These can be annoying, and again, perceived as “trying too hard”. Fortunately, these are infrequent and it feels as though Purdy was uncomfortable with them but felt she had to include them for popularity (they don’t add to the plot and could have been left out).
Naturally, “The Queen’s Pleasure” is much more dramatic as Elizabeth’s alternating chapters stir up the mix. The reader truly feels Amy’s pain and scorn and also Elizabeth’s need for control. The novel is certainly not for Robert fans, as the feelings of hatred toward him can’t be avoided. At the same time, Purdy is repetitive and makes Amy distasteful as each page is filled with numerous attempts to gain (failingly) Robert’s attention and love. This becomes tedious, predictable, and frustrating.
The conclusion of “The Queen’s Pleasure” was strong and then a let-down. Strong:Purdy, in a sense, combined all the theories surrounding Amy’s death which gave an unbiased demise and allows the reader to make his/her own conclusion. Furthermore, Purdy seamlessly interweaves Leicester’s Commonwealth into the tale, strengthening the novel as this document isn’t often explored resulting in a memorable ending. However, the epilogue (which was not necessary) weakens the ending, adds an unneeded twist to the entire novel, and results in a groan. I would suggest ignoring this section. Purdy does discuss some of the historical after notes in the post-script) (bringing to light the interesting figures of Thomas Blount and Dr. Walter Bayly).
The main feature and deciding factor whether one would enjoy the novel or not; is the lack of constant dialogue and banter with a more stream of consciousness approach. To some, “The Queen’s Pleasure” is thus a deeper novel while to others; it may be slow and sluggish. Overall though, I would recommend “The Queen’s Pleasure” to those seeking novels regarding Amy Robsart (as they aren’t abundant). (less)
Whether one believes Catherine Howard was an innocent child begging for love or instead a slut who deserved her fate; her story as the “rose without a...moreWhether one believes Catherine Howard was an innocent child begging for love or instead a slut who deserved her fate; her story as the “rose without a thorn” turned executed wife is well-known. Carolly Erickson explores Henry VIII’s fifth wife in her historical entertainment, “The Unfaithful Queen”.
“The Unfaithful Queen” begins with Erickson attempting to immediately shock readers by describing Anne Boleyn’s execution, a lemon in a “honeypot”, and a self-induced abortion just to name a few events. Although these are somewhat surprising, the constructs are far-fetched and not executed smoothly. Rather than supplement the story, these instead add annoyance and falseness to the already thin narrative.
The writing style, plot, and characterizations in “The Unfaithful Queen” are flat and rather juvenile. Each character fits into a specific stereotype with no personalization or explored elements. Catherine is portrayed as much too innocent for my taste. Plus, her character development is inconsistent as she is a naive child in one moment but then acts much older during the next. Although that may be how the mind of a typical teenager actually functions; I found it to be disillusioning (that, along with Catherine’s extreme pleasure the first time she has a sexual experience… yeah, right!).
Surprisingly, on a whole, the general premise of “The Unfaithful Queen” is more accurate than usual, although the implementation of the story is best described as “silly” and more suitable for teen readers. Elements of the historical events don’t “stick out” and therefore don’t teach much to those new to the life of Catherine. Often, “The Unfaithful Queen” has a rushed pace (even skipping years from one page to the next) which also adds to the lack of depth and truly “feeling” the story.
“The Unfaithful Queen” does improve slightly as it progresses; however, it produces irritations such as a lack of chemistry between Henry and Catherine, an absence of any historical settings or feelings (too modern), and the introduction of odd characters such as the “Dowager Duchess of Cleves” who yells at Henry accusing him of intending to eventually behead her daughter (?!). Did I mention Catherine also has an adorable (sarcasm) pet monkey?
The best conceived portion of the novel (although that isn’t saying much); is the rendering of Catherine during her suspected treason and adultery. The conclusion of these proceedings has a creative flair which ties into the first chapter.
Overall, “The Unfaithful Queen” is diaphanous, lacking detail, and is more of a day at “Tudor High School”. Readers are better off watching Catherine Howard’s season on “The Tudors” television show. This is another Erickson fictional entertainment which is only recommended to intro historical fiction readers. (less)