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.