A woman of a certain age who has three cats underfoot, and has the dream of filling her passport with stamps. Books, classical music, tea, cats, movies, art, fancy needlework, and anything else I can think of.
In my never-failing quest to find good historical fiction, most of the time I encounter books that fail mightily in the satisfaction department. Oh, they could have great descriptions, interesting characters, a great plot, or just good writing -- but somewhere, somehow, along the way, they fumble, and turn into gauno before my eyes.
Such was the case with Queen's Gambit, by Elizabeth Fremantle. The lives of King Henry VIII and his six unfortunate wives has been a staple in historical fiction, and in the last several decades, the choices have exploded on booksellers shelves.
The novel opens with the newly widowed Katherine Parr, Lady Latymer, arriving in London. She has been more than happy to remain in the country, unconcerned with court politics and the religious upheavals that have shaken the kingdom. But even that reached her home and it left a scar across Katherine's psyche. With Katherine is her personal servant, Dorothy Fountain, known to one and all as 'Dot.'
Before long, Katherine is thrust into courtly politics and attracting the attention of the King himself. Henry VIII by that time is the modern image that we have of him -- an obese monster with tyrantical behaviour and a roving eye. While he is now widowed -- Katherine Howard has been tried and executed for her adultery -- rumour has it that he is looking for a sixth wife.
But nothing is ever steady in the palace and soon Katherine is finding herself swarmed with the treacherous machinations of courtiers, and when the next king is going to be a child, nothing and no-one is safe...
Let's be honest here, the historical fiction market is saturated with novels about the Tudors. There's straight up fiction, romance novels with the thinnest veneers of fact, monster mashups, and I recently spotted an alternate history version of Henry VIII. Then there's all of the nonfiction as well. And I've read enough of both to have gotten heartily sick of seeing them. But I had read some positive reviews of this book, and I decided to download it and take it in.
I should have trusted my gut instincts. And this one bothered me a great deal. Ms. Fremantle makes a great deal of her research into the Tudor period from the history down to details of daily living. But as I read this one, I was constantly annoyed by the small errors that kept creeping into the story. There's all sorts of anachronisms that slip into the story, mostly in culinary details, and various things that the characters say -- such as 'kerfuffle' and 'tapioca.' Too, the myths about no-one wearing underclothing is again aired out, bad hygiene, and all the other little details that focus on life being nasty, brutish and short. I guess what bothered me was that the author was claiming a high level of research, but in the end, this read just like any other novel set in the period.
Finally what got me the most was the constant use of the 'As you know, Bob' narrative. This is used to fill in the reader about knowledge that the fictional character would have known, but the reader might not. It's a ploy that is overused and in this one, the author rattles on for about five to ten pages about things that Katherine would have already known about.
In addition to the story itself, the author provides a list of books about the Tudor period and daily life, along with questions for a reader's group, and an interview.
All in all, this gets about three stars from me. It's an average novel at best. Depending on how much the reader knows about the Tudor period, this could or could not be a good novel. It's better than most historical romances, but it certainly isn't up to the level of a novel by Sharon Kay Penman, or most nonfiction about the Tudor period.
And for those of you who are curious, this is what women were probably wearing under their clothing.
Only somewhat recommended.