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In April of last year I started reading Gregory’s first novel, Wideacre. At one point, I even considered her a favorite author but that title was removed after reading less than half of Wideacre. I was completely disgusted by the incestuous nature of its characters that it took me until now to pick up another of Gregory’s novels. This time I decided to return to the time of the Tudors with The Queen’s Fool.
In the year of 1553, fourteen-year-old Hannah Green and her father flee Spain because they are Jews and it’s the time of the Inquisition. Her “sight”, the ability to foresee the future, is discovered by Robert Dudley and considered a priceless gift during these troubled times. King Edward is dying and his sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, are grappling for power. Dudley wants to know who will be ruler after Edward’s death and installs Hannah as the “holy fool” in Mary’s court before and after her assent to power.
But what Dudley really wants is for Hannah to be a spy for him and his father. Hired as a fool but working as a spy; promised in wedlock but in love with her master; endangered by the laws against heresy, treason, and witchcraft, Hannah must choose between the safe life of a commoner and the dangerous life of a courtesan.
I think the better question would be what I liked about this book. I found the characters – every single last one of them – annoying, shallow, and irritating. Perhaps Queen Mary is the only exception to this, but that’s probably because she’s portrayed in a nice manner rather than her usual villainous role. Hannah is more of plot device than a character the reader should care about. She’s conveniently located for all major moments but of course not someone the reader gets to know until the end of the novel.
I mean, why would Mary accept Hannah not only as her fool but also as her companion and allow her access to meetings were secrecy is of the upmost importance? And then why would Elizabeth accept Hannah as her personal companion and fool knowing she’s friends with Mary, knowing Hannah is a spy for others, and knowing she (Elizabeth) is plotting against Mary.
The tidbits about Jews living through the Inquisition and Protestant/Catholic England were interesting and admittedly were the only reasons why I continued reading Gregory’s novel. I’m afraid, however, that it will be quite some time before I pick up another book by Gregory.
- Gregory, Philippa. The Queen’s Fool. New York: Touchstone, 2004. Originally published 2004. Print. 504 pgs. ISBN: 0743246071. Source: Purchased.
- Gregory, Philippa. Wideacre. New York: Touchstone, 2003. Originally published 1987. Print. 656 pgs. ISBN: 0743249291. Source: Purchased.
My mother called earlier this morning to tell me that a garage sale on the next street over had a bunch of Phillipa Gregory books for sale. Garage sales around here usually don’t have books for sale, especially not popular ones like Gregory’s books. So I scurried on down there and picked up four of the seven Gregory book’s available (I already own The Virgin’s Lover and The Other Boleyn Girl; the other one didn’t interest me) for $2.
I snapped up The Queen’s Fool and the Wideacre series — Wideacre, The Favored Child, and Meridon. I’ve heard mixed reviews about Wideacre, but I’m excited to try something of her other than her King Henry VIII books.Photo © Me. Garage sale loot. Taken: April 25, 2009.
In the autumn of 1558, church bells across England ring out the joyous news that Elizabeth I is the new queen. One woman hears the tidings with utter dread. She is Amy Dudley, wife of Sir Robert, and she knows that Elizabeth’s ambitious leap to the throne will draw her husband back to the center of the glamorous Tudor court, where he was born to be.
Elizabeth’s excited triumph is short-lived. She has inherited a bankrupt country where treason is rampant and foreign war a certainty. Her faithful adviser William Cecil warns her that she will survive only if she marries a strong prince to govern the rebellious country, but the one man Elizabeth desires is her childhood friend, the ambitious Robert Dudley. As the young couple falls in love, a question hands in the air: can he really set aside his wife and marry the queen? When Amy is found dead, Elizabeth and Dudley are suddenly plunged into a struggle for survival.
Philippa Gregory is unable to reach the success of The Other Boleyn Girl with The Virgin’s Lover. While I still enjoyed the The Virgin’s Lover I was far from impressed because I know what Gregory is capable of producing.
The writing was still beautiful, as always, but the story line, though taken from history and elaborated upon, was lacking. This time the story was not told from one person’s perspective, but several. I think it gave the story less dimension because you found yourself unable to figure out who you wanted to root for and she usually has such engaging, sympathetic characters that you get attached to them almost immediately like Mary Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl.
The ending was a bit sudden, so much that I thought I had at least twenty more pages to go and next thing I know I’m reading that author’s note. And I’m still scratching my head over the ending.
The body of the novel was good. A little jumpy in the beginning but it begins to smooth itself out.
I loved seeing a different side of Elizabeth. We are usually presented with her as a tough-as-nails queen, unwavering and unyielding. Here she is shown as an outcast at first, ruthless in her rise to power, blinded by love/lust, and manipulative as she grows into her place as a queen.
- Gregory, Philippa. The Virgin’s Lover. New York: Touchstone, 2005. Originally published 2004. Print. 464 pgs. ISBN: 0743269268. Source: Purchased.