Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review: Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

Twice widowed Katherine Parr finds herself the unwilling object of Henry VIII's affections and is forced to marry him while her heart lies with playboy Thomas Seymour. Being queen has it's advantages but passionate Reformer Katherine must tread carefully in a court that is still half Catholic and will jump at the chance to see her become the third beheaded queen of Henry VIII.

As much as present tense narrative is still my unfavored form of story telling, it's refreshing to see an author making use of showing, rather than too much telling. For the most part, the characterization was well done, especially with Elizabeth and I would have liked to see more of her. But I did have trouble understanding how an intelligent and experienced woman like Katherine could fall for a douchebag like Thomas Seymour (it's really the only word to describe him). I am not just saying that because I had the benefit of knowing what Thomas would later do - in fact, in the beginning I wondered if the author would take a nontraditional approach and portray Seymour as a misunderstood victim of rumors. But he is just not a likable character and I couldn't understand why Katherine loved him. It even seems like Katherine herself couldn't understand it - behavior she admitted would otherwise by annoying, on him was "adorable". So although this is a good, quick read, it won't satisfy a thirst for real romance, at least not with Katherine. Katherine's trusted servant and friend Dot and her love interest William Savage will have to suffice.

One thing that puzzled me is why the narrative kept referring to Katherine's sister Anne as "Sister Anne". At first, I thought she was a nun but she is married with children. It's not like there were lots of other "Anne's" in the story that the author needed a way to distinguish her, though there was a few mentions of Anne Boleyn, it's not like she was a present character. It really should have been "her sister Anne" or "sister Anne". I still can't figure out why "sister" was being capitalized, as if it were a title.

Apart from these two complaints, it was an enjoyable read and I do think the author did well to make this an exciting and interesting story. Of all of Henry's wives, Katherine Parr's story may appear among the most uneventful on the surface but this novel is anything but uneventful. I appreciated the inclusion of some theology of the characters, since so many contemporary historical novels don't seem to truly understand how important the religious conflict was at the time. They may make mention of this person being Catholic and that person being Reformed but they don't seem to realistically include theological discussions and arguments being had.

So although I had a few issues to pick at, I was surprised to wind up enjoying this, considering I don't normally like present tense novels. If you're looking for one about Katherine Parr, this is a good option.

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