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Oct 15, 2012

A Dangerous Inheritance: A Novel of Tudor Rivals and the Secret of the Tower by Alison Weir

by Alison Weir
Royal blood curses these women as their hopes and dreams are shattered
 A Dangerous Inheritance: A Novel of Tudor Rivals and the Secret of the Tower by Alison Weir
Ballantine Books October 2, 2012
Hardcover 528 pages
Review copy provided from the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: 3.5 stars

England's Tower of London was the terrifying last stop for generations of English political prisoners. A Dangerous Inheritance weaves together the lives and fates of four of its youngest and most blameless: Lady Katherine Grey, Lady Jane's younger sister; Kate Plantagenet, an English princess who lived nearly a century before her; and Edward and Richard, the boy princes imprisoned by their ruthless uncle, Richard III, never to be heard from again. Across the years, these four young royals shared the same small rooms in their dark prison, as all four shared the unfortunate role of being perceived as threats to the reigning monarch.

The setting: c.1553-1563; Lady Katherine Grey during the reigns of Lady Jane Grey, Mary I, Elizabeth I
The other setting: c.1483-1486; Kate Plantagenet, during her father Richard III- later known as the usurper's reign- and Henry VII

The quick review: The 'same-old same-old' given an updated look through the eyes of two different women; great stuff for those who adore fan fic of Wars of the Roses and the Tudor Dynasty, but could be a long drawn out bland blah blah blah to those who have read all about the R3 + Princes events over and over and over again.

The long review:
A Dangerous Inheritance features an interesting format with the narration, as it brings us the story of two women about seventy years apart. Katherine Grey will be somewhat familiar to Tudor fans as the younger sister of the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey (the Nine Days Queen), and Kate Plantagenet brings us a 'new' look at the reign of Richard III and the nephews he is rumored to have killed in the tower. The events are the same as we know of history, aficionados may find themselves bored for the lack of 'new' material, but one can take comfort in the fictionalized account of these women who typically fade in the background of other novels of their respective eras. It was an interesting format with the switching back and forth of Kate and Katherine, and only a few times I had to readjust the time frame in my mind to get back on the same track. Even though the women are living in a different century, Weir presents their story as a simultaneous timeline so it was easy to get confused as to who was pining for who amongst the endless list of titles of the lords of the realm.

The themes of the women are the same: they each fall in love with a man that due to their royal blood could not be allowed to love freely but each of them handle their woes differently. Katherine Grey, a cousin to Elizabeth I, eventually finds herself in a treasonous love affair with Ned Seymour, and Kate Plantagenet is like a tumbleweed in the midst of the warring factions of the Wars of the Roses. What is most intriguing about Kate is I have barely heard mention of her at all in the other novels, so even though I could barely stomach the redundancy of the Richard III events I was still intrigued by what happens to Kate because that was one thing I had no prior knowledge of. During the story of these women, they each try to discover what happened to the Princes in the Tower; Kate being a staunch supporter of her father, and Katherine fearing their fate and her own will meet somewhere.

When Katherine Grey comes across possible places where Kate could have been decades before her, Katherine gets the heebie-jeebies and all distraught and full of sudden despair until she steps out of the draft kinda thing.. and that can get old after the second instance...but I think along with the Princes Mystery this was supposed to be the underlying theme that connected the two women. (It was perhaps the only silly part of the novel, which is lame because was this really supposed to be the main thing??) I think if Weir added a little more oomph and didn't try to downplay the ghost thing maybe she could have filled it out more instead of making it seem like a half-hearted attempt at creativity and too fluffy for a Weir novel.

This attempt of ghostly reincarnations/visions/manifestations was thrown in to perhaps make this a different kind of Tudor/Wars of the Roses type of novel, and the fact that the two women's stories are presented together also makes it different; but I still think you really have to be in the mood for this one since Weir likes to add many details that tend to bog down the actual novelization. Even though it focuses on the important events of their times, it also focuses on their loves and losses which humanizes these two women in a fantastic fashion. The title A Dangerous Inheritance implies these women who are born too close to the throne for comfort, and their travails were well fleshed out as such. I could truly empathize with these two young women, and I appreciated their stories very much.

But, there was indeed another 'silly part' was the amount of time Sir Edward Warner (jailer!) spent with Katherine as they picked each other's brains regarding the lost princes. In prison in the tower, Katherine would not have had opportunity to do much of anything at all, so Edward Warner was used by the author to give her a bit of life behind those walls, but the extent - and content - of the discussions started to feel a bit over the top. And when Katherine is thinking 'in her head' about the princes, it sounds awfully like it would from a book the author would write herself (perhaps The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir?).

I am kind of on the fence about this one because it was well written and it does offer a lot of insight with it being over 500 pages, but as a novel goes I just wish I were a bit more entertained. I think maybe those readers who are just getting their feet wet with the two eras would enjoy this novel because Weir does a fabulous job of depicting the eras and the important events surrounding Katherine and Kate. She holds true to the typical portrayals of the rulers: Richard III is the crown grasping ogre, Henry VII is an ugly little miser, Lady Jane Grey is the proud victim, Mary I is the Spaniard loving burner of heretics, Elizabeth I is shrewd/powerful/paranoid. And I am beginning to hate Richard III just about as much as the author, so even though I love the many facets of the Wars of the Roses, after reading this one and Gregory's The Kingmaker's Daughter I am making a mental note to not read another Richard III book for at least a year.

I am also of the opinion that 'famous' authors who are viewed as historians have to be near perfect in order to please many readers (I am thinking of Philippa Gregory, of course). If this novel were not written by Alison Weir but someone a bit more obscure, perhaps it would be seen as a triumph. We always have such high expectations for the big name type authors. Again, this is why I am on the fence. I am so sorry this is such a long rambling review, I tend to do this when I can't decide which way to go with it. =)