Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory

GregoryThreeSistersThreeQueensNarrator: Bianca Amato

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (2016)

Length: 21 hours 9 minutes

Series: Book 8 The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels

Author’s Page

Note: Even though this is listed as Book 8 in the series, it works just fine as a stand alone novel.

Henry VIII, King of England, had two sisters – Margaret (his elder) and Mary (his younger). These two ladies, along with Henry’s first wife (Katherine of Aragon), will form a unique sisterhood of queens, sometimes rivals, sometimes allies. This book is told solely from Margaret’s point of view, starting in her childhood and carrying through her three marriages.

Over the years, I’ve dabbled in books about the Tudors. There are tons of them out there, both fiction and non-fiction. However, few of them have more than the bare bones concerning Margaret. So I was tinkled pink when Philippa Gregory came out with this book. Margaret wasn’t considered the great beauty her younger sister was. She didn’t wield as much power as Katherine. She wasn’t Henry’s favorite sibling. However, she still played an important role in Scotland, and hence in Scottish-English relations.

We learn early on that Margaret is betrothed to James, King of Scotland, who is nearly twice her age. So she has to wait until she is 14 to go to Scotland. As a teen, Margaret’s concerns are rather narrow and self-serving. From Margaret’s point of view, there’s competition between the three ladies (Mary, Margaret, and Katherine) for attention and their beauty factors into that. While Katherine received a large, beautiful wedding to Arthur (Henry’s older brother), Margaret gets a small, perfunctory wedding at age 12 with a stand-in for James. This is just one example of how Margaret measures her worth (or lack of it) to the English court.

Margaret’s character starts off as a mixture of naive, self-absorbed, and driven. Indeed, sometimes I felt her selfish attitude was going to do her in! But Gregory is such a good writer that you can see there is something more there, waiting to blossom, in this character. Once Margaret goes off to Scotland, she has to deal with hardships she never faced as a treasured English princess. The Scots had big, bushy beards! James, King of Scotland, has bastard babies! The Scottish Lords actually have to rule and work, including James! Indeed, it was a bit of a culture shock for her. She holds to her English superiority, but as the years pass, and she faces some true hardships herself, her attitudes shifts a bit, and a kernel of wisdom is formed.

Now I didn’t always agree with Margaret’s decisions or her reasons but I also have the historical knowledge. She didn’t have that, obviously, but she also lacked reliable communication and news from the rest of Europe. In this light, most of her decisions make sense. By the end of the book, I felt Margaret was someone I would have enjoyed being friends with. She had grown from that self-absorbed child we met in the first few chapters.

Throughout the book, Margaret, Mary, and Katherine write each other frequently, so you can’t help but compare the three of them. All three married more than once, each married for love at some point, and all three lost babies to illness. Also, each suffered ‘poverty’ at some point. Now, poverty to a royal is a little different than poverty for the masses. Indeed, they still have servants, even if they can’t pay them. They still have some fine clothing, even if they have to patch the sleeves. Still, it was interesting to see how each dealt with it differently.

Margaret does have a few awe-inspiring moments in the book. There are times where she faces down Scottish lords, a besieging army, or a very difficult run for the border while several months pregnant. These are the moments when I liked her best, when she was under the most pressure. She shone in these moments, and that made it easier for me to excuse her petty side.

The author includes a note at the end about how much of her book is factual versus fiction. I was surprised to learn that there is little historical information on Margaret beyond the bare bones of her life. The note did explain a bit about how Margaret’s decisions seemed to show her changing direction often. In my opinion, Gregory did a great job showing us how those swift changes in loyalty could make sense at the time. Indeed, I quite enjoyed this novel, including the self-absorbed aspects of the main character. Margaret was raised to think highly of herself and the story wouldn’t ring true without that attitude.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

The Narration: Bianca Amato did an excellent job with this book. I really liked her various accents (English, Scottish, Spanish, French). She also did a great job with the variety of emotions the characters went through. Her male voices were believable. 

What I Liked: The subject matter – Margaret; she grows from a selfish child to a woman with a bit of wisdom; the comparison between the three sister queens; the Scottish culture and how ‘shocking’ it is to the English princess; Margaret’s best moments; excellent narration.

What I Disliked: Nothing – a fascinating take of an often over-looked historical figure.

What Others Think:

Medievalist.Net

Confessions of a Book Addict

For Winter Nights

Rebecca Henderson Palmer

Sufficiently Distracted

Novel Pastimes

A Time Travel Tagging

I was recently tagged by Lynn over at Books & Travelling with Lynn. The subject is all about books and time traveling, in one way or another. I really enjoy these tag posts as they often give me something to talk about without having to use a lot of brainpower. Here are the Q&A.

SummersOwlDanceWhat is your favorite historical setting for a book?

It’s hard to pick just one. I’ve read plenty of stories set in ancient Greece (Mary Renault), Roman murder mysteries & ‘celebrities’ (John Maddox Roberts, Conn Iggulden), and the 1800s of the American West (David Lee Summers, Cherie Priest). Also, the Tudor era attracts me. In fact, I’m currently wrapped up in Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory.

AsimovStarsLikeDustWhat writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?

Isaac Asimov is near the top of my list. His books feature prominently in my childhood/teen years. I read his Lucky Starr series but also many of his adult novels. For kicks, I’d love to meet Homer and put to rest the age-old argument on whether Homer was male or female or collection of authors. I wouldn’t mind meeting Pearl S. Buck. Her novel, The Good Earth, was required reading in both the 5th and 9th grades (I moved and changed school districts, so that’s why I got hit twice with this classic) and I loved it both times. She had a very interesting life and it wouldn’t just be her books I’d pester her with questions about, but also her travel and years living in China.

LynchTheLiesOfLockeLamoraWhat book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?

There’s so much good stuff out today! Apart from a few classics, most of the ‘safe’ or required reading I had access to as a kid was boring and often felt fake or like it was missing a big element of life – you know, all the gooey, messy bits that make all the good parts that much better. Luckily, I had full access to any SFF novel in the house and there were plenty of those. So to supplement my childhood bookshelf, I would give myself Andy Weir’s The Martian, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, and The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.

Chupacabra
Chupacabra

What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?

I would speed ahead to my future self and hand her a copy of Robert E. Howard’s stories. His writing is some of the best I have enjoyed and yet several of his stories, Conan or otherwise, have certain sexist and racist elements that really repel me. This book would remind me that humans, including myself, are flawed and that things change over the years, such as views on a woman’s proper role in high fantasy adventure. Yet despite these shortcomings, a person can still love a story, or a person, or a country, etc.

ChaneyTheAmberProjectWhat is your favorite futuristic setting from a book?

I always enjoy closed systems and several feature in SF stories. These are domed cities (Logan’s Run by Nolan & Johnson), underground villages (The Amber Project series by JN Chaney), underwater towns (Lucky Starr & the Oceans of Venus by Isaac Asimov), very large space stations (The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey), etc.. There’s the wonder of discovering these places, seeing how they are supposedly working and will go on working forever, and then watching it all come apart in some horrible way that means death for most of the people in the story. Yeah, welcome to my little demented side.

 

Grahame-SmithAustenPrideAndPrejudiceAndZombiesWhat is your favorite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?

For fun, I wouldn’t mind visiting Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I really like the idea of making polite ball jokes, decapitating zombies, working out in the dojo, and politely trading British insults over tea. Honestly, I think that is the only way I would survive the Victorian era.

RobertsTheKingsGambitSpoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?

Back when I was eyeball reading printed books (I do mostly audiobooks now) I had a ritual. I would start a book and at that moment that I knew I was hooked, that I had fallen in love with the story, I would turn to the last page and read the last sentence. Most of the time this didn’t spoil anything, but every once in a while there would be a final line that gave away an important death or such.

PriestMaplecroftIf you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?

Actually, I do have a Time Turner. My husband bought it for me at the start of September while he was at an SCA event. It was right after we learned that I was quite sick but a few weeks before we learned just how sick. So, lots of bitter sweet emotions tied up with that piece of jewelry.

Anyhoo, if I had a working one, I would go everywhere and do everything. I would start with planning things that Bill and I have wanted to do together (like celebrating Beltane in a pre-Christian era) and then add in things that I have always wanted to do but which my be a big snooze fest for Bill (such as Charles Darwin’s Beagle voyage).

JonasAnubisNightsFavorite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods?

Currently, I’m enjoying the Jonathan Shade series by Gary Jonas. Time travel really becomes an element in this urban fantasy series in the second trilogy with Ancient Egypt featuring prominently. I also adore Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. I finally read a Stephen King novel, 11-22-63. The characters were great even as the underlying premise was only so-so for me. The Dinosaur Four by Geoff Jones was a fun, crazy creature feature.

ButcherColdDaysWhat book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?

The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, for sure. I’ve read the early books several times each and I get a laugh out of them each time. Also I would like to experience Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey all over again for the first time. That book showed me how prudish some of my ideas were when I first read it. I wonder what it would show me now? Perhaps the same thing, if indeed this book has had as big an impact on who I am as I think.

Tagging Other People

So in general with these fun tagging posts, I never want anyone to feel obligated to play along. As usual, if any of you want to play along, I definitely encourage you. You can answer any of the questions in the comments or you can throw up your own blog post and then let em know about it so I can come read it. Here are some people who I think would like this particular time travel subject:

David Lee Summers

Under My Apple Tree

Beauty Is A Sleeping Cat

On Starships & Dragonwings