Queen’s Gambit

QueensGambit“The notary smells of dust and ink. How is it, Latymer wonders, that when one one sense blunts another sharpens.”– Elizabeth Fremantle, Queen’s Gambit

Was it the cover that grabbed me? I like the the red and the Queen wrapped in her title. And the Tudor period always fascinates, but the story of Henry and his Queens is very well-known and so it’s hard to find a novel that is a new retelling. Still, I didn’t know much about this Queen, Katerine Parr, the one who survived, so I picked it up.

The book is an easy read–sailing along between the points of view of Katherine, her faithful maid, Dot, and her confidante, the homosexual Dr. Huicke. Katherine confused me as a character. She was sometimes described as a woman in perfect control of herself in front of the treacherous king. She was the perfect Queen, with a “serene smile that fools everyone but him [Huicke]; he knows the turmoil that roils behind the facade.” But sometimes she engages in highly dangerous behavior like accepting Calvinist books and writing her own religious tracts and nearly gets killed for it. I am sure the author was trying to resolve the historical record of KP and the story, but I found her a bit uneven.

The most interesting characters were Dot and Huicke. Unfortunately, Dot rises in rank due to the Queen’s affection, and so falls out of the story about 3/4 through the book when she gets married and leaves the Queen’s service. Huicke pops up here and there in the story and is the only person the Queen can completely confide in. He would be an interesting topic for a novel all his own if his characterization in this book is at all accurate.

It’s an easy read, not demanding, and interesting if you like this time period and subject matter. Still, if you haven’t read Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall or Bring Up the Bodies, those are a much more atmospheric, original, and ultimately successful pair of books than this one.

3/5

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