Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

FremantleQueensGambitWhy I Read It: I think it’s obvious by now that I enjoy reading books set in the Tudor time period, and this fit in nicely.

Where I Got It: Review copy from the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Tudor fans and those who enjoy women’s historical fiction.

Narrator: Georgina Sutton

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2013)

Length: 14 hours 24 minutes

Katherine Parr is about to be twice widowed, tending her elderly husband in his final sickness. He is in great pain, and Katherine knows something of the herbs that ease his pain, and can ease his passing. However, she hesitates as she also holds not only her immortal soul in her care, but also her husband’s. Once he passes, Katherine is summoned to the English court by Lady Mary, King Henry VIII’s daughter. Katherine (Kit) happily attends Mary, and introduces her stepdaughter, Meg, who is not only recovering from her father’s recent death, but also from the violent religious uprisings of only a few months past. The English court is full of various perils, for both the wise and the young such as Kit, Meg, and their close confidant Dot (their personal maid and friend). As the King sets his eyes on Kit for his sixth wife, the ladies become closer.

This is a rich and thoroughly engaging book, alternating between Kit’s and Dot’s point of view, giving the readers both the royal and kitchen scene. The main characters walk onto the page fully formed, with back stories and goals of their own. I was easily drawn into the story. I will say that briefly, I wondered if this was Book 2 in a series because the main characters are dealing with the after effects of events that happened a few months previous to the opening of this book. Indeed, I even went so far as to check on various book sites, and finally checking the author’s site – and this is indeed Book 1. Still, I had that little niggling feeling that I was missing some part of the story.

That aside, I loved listening to the two points of view. Dot, as the maid, has greater run of the castles and grounds, but she also has to do all the packing and unpacking as the court rotates through the various royal residences. Kit has all the fancy clothes and jewels (which are quite weighty), but nearly all her motions, her life in fact, is dictated by King and court needs.

Spanning several years, the book encompasses various historical characters and tackle the numerous religious questions of the Reformation without being preachy. I had a true sense of the predicament Kit found herself in, having her personal views the opposite of Lady Mary, and periodically, opposite to hose of the mercurial King Henry.

As much as I enjoyed this novel, with it’s insights into Katherine Parr’s life, I must bring up my one criticism. Only the main female characters have any depth; all the male characters are one dimensional. Not only that, but all the male characters commit some wrong towards the lead ladies in some form. A few regret their trespasses and they are portrayed in a gentler light. Since the story lacked a single male with altruistic motives and characteristics throughout the novel, the story was a slightly unbalanced. True, the 1500s were not a time where gender equality was even thought of, so perhaps this was done on purpose to provide the backdrop if blatant and socially acceptable gender inequality.

Even with that criticism, I would not pass up another book by Elizabeth Fremantle. The writing and pacing were well done, keeping me engaged. It was obvious a sizable amount of research went into the book, and the details were definitely appreciated by this reader.

The Narration: Georgina Sutton had distinct voices and accents for the main characters, and a variety of male voices (those these sometimes slipped a little to the feminine). I enjoyed her sniffs and sneers for the various snotty expressions by the characters.

What I Liked: Rich historical backdrop; even knowing the historical facts, I was still fascinated to see how this author would play out the narrative; Dot became my favorite character; the ending was bitter sweet and a perfect fit for the story.

What I Disliked: I initially thought this was Book 2 because of the numerous references to events that occurred prior to the the beginning of Book 1; all the male characters are one dimensional and users of one sort or another.

What Others Think:

Flashlight Commentary

Let Them Read Books

The Tudor Book Blog

So Many Books So Little Time

Medieval Bookworm

1 thought on “Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle”

  1. Sounds like a book I would enjoy. I definitely think you would enjoy the Philippa Gregory books – The Other Boleyn Girl, etc, there’s about six or seven, can’t be sure now because it’s been a while but I’m sure they started (not in date they were written order) with the Constant Princess, and they basically then went through the wives of Henry VIII – a very popular series and really great to read.
    Lynn 😀

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