The Queen's Governess by Karen Harper

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The Queen's Governess by Karen Harper

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Katie Blow
Reviewed by Katie Blow
Summary: Kat Ashley, although one of the least talked about characters of the Tudor period, played an important part in the Tudor court, becoming the loyal and devoted governess of Princess Elizabeth. This book, written as Kat's diary, follows her life of hardship, loss, love and joy whilst trying to keep the promise she made to Anne Boleyn, that she would protect her precious daughter at all cost.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: August 2011
Publisher: Ebury Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0091940416

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Kat Ashley isn't a name one usually associates with the Tudor era, but just like the more famous characters of the period, she has her own fascinating story to tell, a story which this book captures perfectly. As Thomas Cromwell's spy, Anne Boleyn's confidante and later Princess Elizabeth's governess, Kat Ashley certainly knew the Tudor court well and it is through her fictional diary entries that the reader is invited to know the dazzling, yet dangerous Tudor court too.

However, Kat's story begins miles away from the excitement of the Tudor court, in rural Devon where she spends her days dreaming of London and the court which she one day becomes so entwined in. It is only through a chance encounter with Thomas Cromwell, before he becomes one of the most powerful men in the kingdom, that Kat finally gets her ticket to what she believes will be a better life. And whilst life at court may certainly seem better, it is also full of deceit, secrets and danger that risks not only Kat's reputation but her life too.

As one of the few people Anne Boleyn feels she can trust before she dies, Kat promises to protect and care for the queen's daughter, Elizabeth, a promise which she keeps for the rest of her life, even when it means she may die for it. Together they endure the happiest and the most difficult times, both before and after Elizabeth becomes queen.

This book is among the best historical novels I've ever read. It was refreshing to find that Karen Harper chose to write about a less well known character, rather than the obvious ones. Kat Ashley is certainly an interesting character and not to be under-estimated. Despite coming from a poor family, she is intelligent and well-educated and is one of the few individuals at the time to work her way up through merit and quite a bit of luck. She does her best to stay true to herself throughout the novel, trying not to be corrupted and swayed too much by the extravagant and political life at court.

The story is well written and definitely just as good as many of Philippa Gregory's novels, which I am a huge fan of. The diary entry form is very effective, allowing us a very personal and intimate look at Kat Ashley who clearly had a great influence on Elizabeth's life and the woman she became, although there is no denying she inherited both her mother's wilful nature and her father's fiery temper. Just as Harper writes of Elizabeth: Anne Boleyn gave her life but Kat Ashley gave her love. This close, maternal bond between Kat and Elizabeth is evident throughout the book and wonderfully captured by Harper.

Harper, like the very best historical writers, manages to capture excellently the period in which the story is set: the excitement, the fear, the happiness, the tragedy and the cruel injustice that women especially faced, living in a man's world.

Even if you're not a great fan of historical fiction, I would most certainly recommend you read this book. It's a riveting read and the regular breaks in each chapter make it easy to pick up and put down. For those, like me who are big fans of historical fiction, this book will leave you hungry for more like this and for those of you who've never looked twice at a historical novel, I'm pretty sure you won't be able to resist the dazzling, passionate and dangerous world of the Tudors.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag. We also have a review of Harper's Shakespeare's Mistress.

Further Reading: The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

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