Friday, 19 April 2013

Queen's Gambit - Elizabeth Fremantle

When I saw QUEEN'S GAMBIT on Netgalley, I knew it was a book that I needed to read. I've always been a fan of historical fiction, favourites being Mary Hooper, Marie-Louise Jensen, Eve Edwards - to name a few. It's hard to find good historical fiction I find now that aren't a gazillion pages long like Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel but are still historically accurate. When I settled down with this on holiday, I wanted an absorbing, detailed historical read that I would enjoy completely from beginning to end. I think I got what I wanted...

Synopsis: Katherine Parr, recently widowed for a second time, reluctantly is called to court to attend on Lady Mary Tudor, Henry VIII's daughter. After being married to two men, one very young and one much older than herself, Katherine's love for Thomas Seymour makes her hope she can finally marry for herself. However, under the ageing King and the power hierarchy infused with rumours and affairs at court, Katherine soon finds another man vowing for her hand in marriage.

Review: I would like to say I'm quite knowledgeable in Tudor history (although perhaps disputable) as it's the period I love the most and I'm currently studying Tudor England for my History exam in June - which happens to cover Henry VIII's last few years as King.
Katherine Parr is a wife many tend to forget about. She's the only one to survive (just), doesn't have a huge incest scandal around her like Anne Boleyn and didn't produce an heir like Jane Seymour and Catherine of Argon did. Quoting Katy Perry, I guess she's 'the one that got away'. However, really she has the most interesting story - widowed three times and then marrying someone rather younger than herself after being the Queen of England. Lots has been written about the other wives (perhaps not Anne of Cleves...) so I was quite interested to see how Fremantle would bring Katherine Parr to life.

In some ways, knowing the history very well for my exam, the novel became quite predictable and I wasn't surprised by the ending. So I think this book would be more enjoyable for those that don't know about her life after Henry VIII, how she died, what happened in her 4th marriage. It was still great to see the events come to life in an imaginative and interesting way that made the history I knew so much more realistic in my mind. As a reader, you are thrown into the dangerous, power-hungry world of the Tudors and shown the passions and calculated manoeurves of the courtiers and nobility that I think really defined the Tudor period. The relation to chess that Elizabeth Fremantle displays in the title is quite accurate to display the secretive, false world of court under Henry VIII and I think that was displayed beautifully.

Catherine is a character that I couldn't help but like. She's very practical yet has this vulnerable moments of emotions. I thought I wouldn't relate or sympathise with her as she is much older than I am currently, but I think because of the character that comes across the page, someone who understands and knows how to act in the world around them, made me feel a lot for her. Catherine is the main narrator, but there is also the addition of Huicke, her doctor and close friend, and Dot, her servant. It was interesting to have the narrative from all these different point of views especially as it is written in third person and although I was confused a few times at who was narrating, it becomes quite nice to have the change of point of view. It made the novel have a more realistic feel as you saw the events from three entirely different perspectives. Huicke and Dot were likable also, but I couldn't help thinking their characters are very similar to how Catherine Parr herself is portrayed.

The lovely aspect of this novel was the challenging views of some of the famous figures history has come to love or hate. While Elizabeth and Henry to some extent are shown largely positively throughout much of history, they are shown quite negatively in QUEEN'S GAMBIT with Henry are merely an old, temperamental man and Elizabeth as a young, selfish girl. Although it didn't entirely change my perspective of these figures, it was interesting and rather imaginative to see these characters in these different lights. Another person seen in a different light was Thomas Seymour. Wow, he is SLIMY. I didn't mind him too much in my history lessons but wow, you learn to hate him in this book. But that's all I'll say otherwise I'll ruin it (if you want more, Google him!)

Now to the narrative and actual writing. Looking back, the writing was...okay. I found it not very absorbing at times, it became quite repetitive but I did want to know what would happen next to Catherine on every page and I think it was that that kept me reading to the end. There was some sub-plots which seemed a little unnecessary for me but I still enjoyed reading this novel. Although I didn't have too much trouble keeping up with the names of the vast cast of characters, I can imagine that it would be hard for someone who has little knowledge of this period past the rhyme of Henry's six wives.

I have to say that my favourite part of this book was the way Elizabeth Fremantle really brings the history to life. This was an enjoyable book and I especially loved the portrayal of court, the underground, hidden dealings and spreading rumours that could cost a life. Although I don't think this book was perfect, it was a lovely read on holiday if you want something a little bit more serious but still an easy read. This is marketed I believe as an Adult Fiction book but in all honesty, it could be for anyone that wants to find more out about the Tudors. I will be looking forward to Fremantle's next book all about Lady Jane Grey, a figure I can't help but admiring and feeling some sympathy for.
I've loved the Tudor period for a long time now and I don't think that love will be leaving me very soon. This was a delightful read.

I give it a 4 out of 5

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for letting me have the chance to review this book.

Author's Website:
Pages: 452
Publisher: Penguin
Challenges: Historical Fiction, BBC

More Great Books set in the Tudor period: 
VIII - H.M.Castor
The Other Countess - Eve Edwards
The Lady in the Tower - Marie-Louise Jensen


  1. I'm really glad you liked this, Rebecca, because it was one of my favourite historical novels of last year.
    Catherine Parr has always been one of my favourite of Henry VIII's wives and so I think I was always bound to fall in love with this novel.

    Now that you've mentioned it, I don't think I have ever seen a novel written about Anne of Cleves because it seems like everyone instantly dismisses her but I think it would be nice to see. I may have to have a think about that!

    Lovely review, Rebecca! :D

  2. I used to hate historical fiction after a few bad experiences, which was really sad because I love history. However, after reading a few good ones, I LOVE it! Mary Hooper sounds brilliant but I'll look out for this one too. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Great review! :)

  3. I am not much into historical fiction, but this one sounds really interesting.. I must check whether this book is available at my favorite online bookstore or not..


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