August 30, 2013

The Tudor Book Blog Book Reviews: 'Queen's Gambit' by Elizabeth Fremantle

Reviewed by Elizabeth of The Tudor Book Blog as part of the Queen's Gambit Virtual Blog Tour.


Katherine Parr as Queen.
Following events surrounding Catherine Parr’s life, particularly her marriage to Henry VIII, Fremantle paints a stunning image of Tudor England under Henry VIII. Opening in about 1542, Katherine Parr finds herself a widow…for the second time. Luckily she is rich, thus in no rush to get re-married. She travels to court with her maid, Dot, and step-daughter, Meg, to attend on Princess Mary. While there, she meets two men; King Henry VIII and Thomas Seymour, who both set their sights on her. As anyone who has read about Katherine Parr knows, Henry VIII won…at least at first. He takes her as his sixth wife, and Katherine is forced to use her intelligence and wit to keep from going the way of her predecessors, all the while pining for Thomas Seymour.

My Thoughts

A handsome Thomas Seymour
(complete with ostrich feather).
I have read my fair share of books set in Henry VIII’s court. However, this particular novel is one of the most beautifully and intelligently written pieces of historical fiction I have ever read. From the first page I was drawn in, finding myself easily picturing the massive halls, lead glass windows, and bustle of hundreds of silk skirts as the ladies rush to-and-fro. Fremantle has obviously spent a good deal of time researching, not only the events and characters, but the time-period; the smells, tastes, and sights. To me, this is one of the most important aspects of a novel. Unlike a movie or show where the audience sees the grandeur, a novelist must create that grandeur with words and descriptions. Fremantle does an excellent job of setting the stage for Katherine’s game.

My favorite scenes were those shown at court. When Katherine first arrives, it is to attend the Princess Mary. Fremantle uses such eloquent and detailed descriptions that you cannot help but imagine yourself there. For example, when Katherine arrives at Whitehall Palace, 
“the courtyard is ankle deep in slush and, in spite of the sawdust that has been strewn in a makeshift path across the cobbles, Katherine can feel the wet chill soaking through her shoes, and the damp edges of her skirts flick bitterly at her ankles…”
Her excellent descriptions do not stop there. One of my favorite introductions is that of Katherine and Thomas Seymour. When Katherine first sees him, she sums him up pretty quickly, thinking him vain as he,
“waves a velvet cap adorned with an ostrich feather the size of a hearth brush that bobs and dances as he gives the thing an unnecessary flourish…” 
In contrast, 
Henry VIII’s “tightly laced black and white doublet, which on closer inspection is encrusted with pearls, seems to hold him together, with rolls of him spilling out from its edges and giving the impression that were he to remove it, he would lose his form all together…”
Her descriptions really appeal to me personally, almost like art for the imagination.

An old (and rather cranky looking)
Henry VIII.
I also really enjoyed Fremantle’s writing style. She jumps from character to character, letting you see the story as it progresses from various points of view. She focuses mainly on Katherine and Dot, allowing the reader to view characters from two very different points of view; that of the Lady (Katherine) and the humble maid (Dot). Thus, Fremantle is able to set scenes and really round out her main characters by allowing the reader to see other characters' (of varying backgrounds) views and opinions of them. I love her use of character development through the use of other characters’ thoughts and eyes. For example, Katherine worries over her stepdaughter’s weight. After the rebels held them hostage during the Pilgrimage of Grace, Meg lost a lot of weight and is very nervous. Though Katherine does not know the extent of her stepdaughter’s anxiety, you as the reader do by seeing her described by both Katherine and Dot (who witnessed more than the Lady...). 

My only con is that for someone who knows nothing about Tudor England or the wives of Henry VIII, this is probably not the best novel for you to start with. While it is beautifully written, it does require some “reading-between-the-lines” and background knowledge of the characters, otherwise you may find yourself getting a little lost as it jumps about person to person.

'Lewis' Chess Pieces. Source.
The book is appropriately titled, as Katherine’s life as Henry VIII’s wife was very much like a chess game. One bad move and the game is over. In life, as shown so well in the novel, Katherine had to be one step ahead of the King and her enemies, skillfully and wittily plotting her moves. Fremantle mentions on her website that “Katherine Parr has been mis-represented by history in that she is remembered as the dull nursemaid who saw an irascible king through his dotage. She was far from this, and hopefully my fictional representation of her goes someway to show what a dynamic, and politically savvy woman she was.” In my opinion, Fremantle has done exactly that. 

I give this novel a very much deserved 5 Tudor Roses.

A huge thank you to author Elizabeth Fremantle and Amy from Virtual Blog Tours for providing me with a copy of the novel, as well as two copies for giveaway! More on that soon ;)

Be sure to check out Elizabeth Fremantle's website for more on Katherine Parr and her other writings, and follow along her virtual blog tour here.

Elizabeth Fremantle is also joining us here at the Tudor Book Blog for an author Q&A on Sept. 4th. Be sure to check back then!

1 comment:

  1. Hallo again, Ms. Elizabeth! :)

    I am hopeful that my prior comment didn't post twice, as I was having such difficulty to get it to go through! (OpenID) I ended up getting Firefox, which is the second time I've switched browsers in the score of a week! Eek.

    I wanted to come back and give you a compliment on this book review! What I appreciated aside from the historical observations you were giving, is the attention you gave to the author's style of story-telling and the manner in which the story alights in your mind's eye as you read the words! I love writers who take the time to fully embody the world they are writing, to where its a very sensory experience!

    Based on your review and what I had originally found myself, I am ever more confident in my soon enjoyment of reading this book! If I am not meant to win a copy, I will be receiving it through my local library! I'll make sure to drop back and talk about the book with you!

    I love the addition of the images, that truly help purport the imagery of the setting and time, as its such a far off place from our modern times, that its not always as easy to extrapolate how everyone would have looked then! I am not as familiar with the Tudor Age, as I am more oft wandering around the corridors of the Regency OR Victorian age! With forays into the World War eras! I do read outside those spheres, but as said, its book bloggers like you that help me perceive these other times a bit easier than if I were to pick up the book blind! For that, I thank you! :)


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