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Mar 13, 2013

Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle
Simon & Schuster: June 11, 2013
Historical Fiction
Hardcover 464 pages
eGalley copy downloaded from Edelweiss
Burton Book Review Rating: 3.5 stars= I enjoyed it despite its minor quirks

This brilliant historical fiction debut takes you into the heart of the Tudor court and the life and loves of the clever, charismatic Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth and last wife. 
Widowed for the second time aged thirty-one, Katherine Parr finds she has fallen deeply for the dashing courtier Thomas Seymour and hopes at last to marry for love. However, obliged to return to court, she attracts the attentions of another: the ailing, egotistical and dangerously powerful monarch Henry VIII, who dispatches his love rival, Seymour, to the continent. No one is in a position to refuse a royal proposal so, haunted by the fates of his previous wives—two executions; two enforced annulments; one death in childbirth—Katherine is obliged to wed Henry Tudor and become his sixth queen.
Committed to religious reform, Katherine must draw upon all her instincts to navigate the treachery of the court, drawing a tight circle of women around her including her stepdaughter Meg, traumatized by events from their past that are shrouded in secrecy, and their loyal servant Dot, who knows and sees more than she understands. But with the Catholic faction on the rise once more, reformers being burned for heresy, and those close to the king vying for position in the new regime, Katherine’s survival seems unlikely. Yet as she treads the razor’s edge of court intrigue, she never quite gives up on love.

A must-read for fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, Queen’s Gambit brings to life the remarkable story of Katherine Parr as she battles with those intent on destroying her, but also with her own heart.

Readers who would rather go swim with alligators instead of reading yet another Tudor themed historical.. please don't dive in yet...I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would. It did start off with more of a bang for me, as I felt the characterizations of Katherine Parr and her step-daughter Margaret Neville were pretty awesome. I then loved the jutting around from person to person, getting a little bit from everyone from the dying Latymer to the physician Huicke, to the loyal servant of Dot. All these characters helped shape a well-rounded story (that we all think we know) yet the author has added some clever plot twists that had me sucked in from the beginning.

As fat old King Henry has his way and Katherine Parr is no longer Lady Latymer but instead Queen Katherine, we get a full sense of the religious turmoil that was taking hold of England at the time. Catholics could very well take offense at some of the remarks that were being made (I am Catholic) but I was able to forgive those slights. The tone of the book shifted a bit, as there was a focus more on the policies of England as opposed to the character driven start, and since I pretty much knew what was going to happen I felt my attention drifting.

The charm to the book was the witty prose with the details of the period that were enough to make the book not too fluffy but not too much to bore this Tudor fan out of her mind. I wouldn't say this novel is of the epic dazzling quality that some reviewers have painted it as, since especially my interest was waning after I hit the 80% mark, but I will say that it is a piece of Tudor fan-fic that was well done and I recommend it to those who are still eager to read more of the period and the struggles concerning the sixth wife of Henry VIII.

Some of the quotes that I posted on Goodreads from my eGalley (technically not supposed to quote from the book, but I feel justified as I would like to offer a feel of the tone of the narrative in an attempt to help sell it):

"By rights she should have been married long ago to some magnificent foreign prince, borne him a flock of princelings, and allied England to some great land, but she has been pushed from pillar to post, in favor, out of favor, legitimate, illegitimate. No one knows what to do with her, least of all her father." - can you guess the poor Princess this refers to?

"You can’t scratch an itch around here without everybody knowing about it one way or another, and Anne Stanhope’s bulbous eyes watch everybody constantly so she can feed her husband, Hertford, little snippers of information: who is allied to whom, or who has argued with whom, which ladies are sporting new jewels, and suchlike." - Those bulbous eyes belonging to Edward Seymour's wife

"Elizabeth puts a spell on people, that is her way. She puts them under her magic, takes them if she wants them and gets rid of them when she is bored." - of that princess who would be Queen.

Elizabeth Fremantle employs the use of dramatic license with several of the plot twists, and those unknown plot points were very intriguing in the beginning of this fresh look upon Katherine Parr (which started from her marriage to Lord Latymer to the King and then to Thomas Seymour). Towards the end, I was slightly disappointed that the author did take it as far as she did as far as the twists go, so those readers who do not appreciate copious amounts of re-imagining the events will not appreciate this title. It is evocative, and is a sort of a no-holds barred type of read when you consider the amount of fiction that the author inserts, and yet I enjoyed it as a whole. I hate comparing things to Philippa Gregory since everyone else does it, but I can say that readers who enjoy Gregory's works should find no fault with this impressive debut novel.

Edit to add this link to a very enjoyable piece from the author over at Waterstones.