|Michael Joseph (14 Mar 2013)|
When faced with the terrifying prospect of being the sixth wife of King Henry VIII, Katherine Parr was justified in being apprehensive; after all, Henry's previous marriages hadn't exactly fared well. However, she quickly realises that refusing a King's marriage proposal is tantamount to treason, and as she turns her back on a passionate involvement with the charismatic Thomas Seymour, she resigns herself to becoming the helpmate of an irascible and awkward old man. With great skill, Elizabeth Fremantle has provided a vivid portrait of the latter years of Henry’s reign and a real sense of history pervades the story as it charts the challenging years of Katherine’s marriage to an ageing and increasingly volatile Henry. Katherine Parr has always been overshadowed by the sexier and altogether more robust catalogue of Henry’s ex wives, and yet in Queen's Gambit, it is easy to see just how this intelligent and thoughtful queen managed to hold together all the pieces of Henry’s fragmented life. Katherine’s determination to involve Henry’s lost and lonely children in some semblance of family life is commendable; however, it is her religious fervour which will prove to be her Achilles heel.
The story abounds with Tudor skulduggery, and takes us effortlessly from the domestic arrangements of a royal court on the move, to the intrigue of political and religious obsession. The ever present threat of danger is never too far away and a real sense of foreboding pervades as Katherine attempts to manage Henry whose capricious nature often reveals a terrifying split personality. The historical figures that flit into and out of court life are extremely well managed and the inclusion of an extensive character list at the end of the book helps to put them all into context
Beautifully written, and finely observed throughout, Queen's Gambit soon becomes a real page turner. Elizabeth Fremantle is without doubt a major new talent in historical fiction writing.
This is a real treat for fans of historical fiction.
My thanks to Newbooks, Real Readers, NetGalley and Penguin Books Ltd for a review copy of this book.