The Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle
|The Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: Katherine Parr was the last of Henry VIII's wives; the one that felt the fear but did it anyway as she struggled against the fate of her predecessors. This novel is so beautifully detailed and well-written that we're right there beside her. Historical and literary empathy-invocation at its finest.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 480||Date: March 2013|
|Publisher: Michael Joseph|
|External links: Author's website|
The recently widowed Lady Katherine Latymer falls in love with aristocratic Thomas Seymour, a man more a stranger to fidelity than to a lady's bed. It's not a good idea, especially when Henry VIII announces he'd like to make use of her renowned nursing skills by marrying her. As Katherine navigates the seas of palace survival there's a lot that can sink her: Katherine's wish for Henry to return to the original protestant faith as he perceived it, her desire to bring the King's children together under one roof and the plotting of those who would like to see her head disconnected at the neck to name but three. Meanwhile the shadow of Snape Castle hangs over Katherine's step-daughter Meg, haunting her hopes, her dreams and her everyday life to a degree that only the maid Dot understands.
Katherine Parr/Latymer novels are like buses; wait long enough and two arrive at once. Earlier in 2013 we had Jenny Mandeville's A Crown of Despair and now author and former fashion editor Elizabeth Fremantle uses Katherine to demonstrate her love of the Tudor era. Having said that, each book emphasises different facets and therefore become companion pieces rather than rivals.
Both show us a Katherine determined to keep Henry on the religious straight and narrow while fearing the future that fate may have picked for her and her journey through other's eyes as well as her own. However this novel has an air of dark gravitas about it as we feel the fear and see the results that the events at Snape had on Katherine and young Margaret Latymer. Elizabeth worked for literary scouts for years, learning what works and doesn't work in a novel and this experience shows.
Humour may be absent but it's not missed as we're treated to changing voices in line with the personality and standing of each narrator. This may seem a no-brainer, but as we hear the fading voice of Lord Latymer in the prologue and later the naïve description of Whitehall Palace from Dot the maid, we realise that few writers pull this off so convincingly.
Another thing that jumps out is the small detail almost casually tossed into the story, understating the huge amount of research and thought behind it. For instance I love historical fiction but I'd never thought about the chinking noise that Tudor men made as they walked due to spurs and swords. Similarly, the sights and smells are there in an almost tangible form too, transporting us into the pages.
By the way, if any of you are worried that an ex-fashion writer may be tempted to spend paragraphs describing fabrics, styles and all things couture, worry not. The author may mention a colour here and there to enlarge our mental picture but historic substance and an emotionally engaging story remain the focus. So emotionally engaging in fact that, for the first time, I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat during a palace-based historical fiction wanting to call out on behalf of one of the characters. Talk about being in the zone!
We may believe that Katherine was the lucky wife, remaining Henry's love up to his death, but Elizabeth Fremantle writes of the price she pays for that 'luck' in a world where women were chattels and feelings were a luxury best kept to themselves. As I read the wonderful set of notes at the back, describing the futures Katherine and the other real people who mingle with the imaginary I realised that true luck is living in the 21st century rather than the 16th.
If this appeals then so will the aforementioned A Crown of Despair by Jenny Mandeville. They're definitely different enough not to make you feel you've seen it all before.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle at Amazon.com.
The Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle is in the Top Ten Historical Fiction Books of 2013.
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