Books: The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory

A couple of things might have worked against this book for me. 1. I had just finished Bring Up the Bodies, which is so spectacularly written, this pales in comparison. Actually, it isn't fair to compare the two—though both are historical fiction, they're written for different readers, I think. But proximity bias still colors how I received this book. 2. I'd also read Queen's Gambit not so long before, and I found that one a more interesting take on Katherine/Kateryn Parr. I also liked how Queen's Gambit played out through Parr's marriage to Thomas Seymour and her eventual death, whereas The Taming of the Queen ends with Henry VIII's death.

So. Now that I've given the ending away (for anyone not aware of history), what's this book about? It begins with Henry VIII proposing to Kateryn (as she's called in this version). Kateryn must give up her love of Thomas Seymour and marry Henry, then navigate the pitfalls of a court torn by religious differences and Henry's own mercurial temperament.

Anyone familiar with the story knows some of the plot points—how Kateryn was to be arrested but managed to save herself just in time so that Henry shooed the guards away when they came for her. How Anne Askew was eventually burned at the stake for heresy. The goal, then, for a historical fiction author is to bring these moments to life and pose a reasonable version of the people and events of which we have little to no primary knowledge. Gregory is one of the best-known historical fiction authors, and she does this on a regular basis. The result is consistently good and sometimes great work.

Alas, I wouldn't call this one "great." It does the job, but dragged in the middle quite a bit with Kateryn having this and that preacher come to her presence chamber, and having her go on and on about writing and studying. Sometimes it felt as though Gregory were trying to insert her love of writing into the historical figure of Parr. I mean, I understand the reason for showing Kateryn as intelligent and eager to learn, but . . . It felt repetitive after a while. And so did the damn dream sequence that was repeated over and over until I felt beat over the head with it. As though the book needed padding or something.

Meanwhile, if Gregory needed to make a minimum word count, I might much have rather had her go into Kateryn's eventual marriage to Thomas Seymour and everything that went on there. Hence my preference for Queen's Gambit.

Final criticism: hate the cover. The slightly blurry girl looks like she's 15, not like the 30ish protagonist.

On the plus side, the tension as the net closes around Kateryn and she is nearly arrested is palpable here. That part of the book is done really well.

All in all a solid effort (though I got bored in the middle and began reading other things), but not my favorite in the genre, or even my favorite fictional take on Parr.

No comments: