REVIEW: The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory
Dear Mrs. Gregory,
Having read and loved “The Other Boleyn Girl,” I hurried out and bought “The Queen’s Fool” when it was first released three years ago. Then….life happened and despite the fact that it sat on a table right in front of me for that long, it’s taken me until now to pick it up and start reading it. And despite the fact that I had to take my cat to the vet and then my car died on me today and I had to spend a few hours getting towed, borrowing another car, then driving out to pick mine up when (thank God) it only turned out to be a minor problem, I managed to get all 500 pages of it read in only two days. I was glued to it. I devoured it. I once again wondered why I have only read two of your many books. I must remedy that.
A young woman caught in the rivalry between Queen Mary and her half sister, Elizabeth, must find her true destiny amid treason, poisonous rivalries, loss of faith, and unrequited love.
It is winter, 1553. Pursued by the Inquisition, Hannah Green, a fourteen-year-old Jewish girl, is forced to flee Spain with her father. But Hannah is no ordinary refugee. Her gift of “Sight,” the ability to foresee the future, is priceless in the troubled times of the Tudor court. Hannah is adopted by the glamorous Robert Dudley, the charismatic son of King Edward’s protector, who brings her to court as a “holy fool” for Queen Mary and, ultimately, Queen Elizabeth. Hired as a fool but working as a spy; promised in wedlock but in love with her master; endangered by the laws against heresy, treason, and witchcraft, Hannah must choose between the safe life of a commoner and the dangerous intrigues of the royal family that are inextricably bound up in her own yearnings and desires.
The history of the Tudors has always fascinated me and I spent many years reading various biographies of the principle players of the era. I was amazed at how accessible you make the complex politics and religious changes that wracked England during the time frame of this novel. I never felt lost, never had to back up and reread a passage to remember who somebody was or what they had done…truly it was wonderfully done. And I thought you moved Hannah through the story to place her at various important events with ease.
The story was once again a sobering reminder to me of how much freedom I enjoy as a 21st century woman, how unremarkable it is that I can read and write, hold a job, don’t have to walk with my head down or have my father excuse the fact that I’m educated. That I can read the Bible for myself and don’t have to fear practicing my religion. That I can speak freely and not fear being hauled away in the night to torture and interrogation before being burned alive — all in the effort to “save my soul.” These are Hannah’s very real fears and you bring them vividly to life. I also like the fact that since the story is told from the POV of a servant, we get a total picture of life in Tudor England and English Calais before it was retaken by the French.
Queen Mary is so often presented as little more than a place holder before the glittering reign of her younger sister Elizabeth. When history talks about her it’s usually as a religious fanatic who turned most of England once and for all away from Catholicism. You give us a more detailed glimpse of a woman who endured remarkable changes of fortune over the course of her life. One who went from beloved daughter to reviled bastard, who saw her devoted mother cast aside, who nearly lost her throne after years of waiting for her chance yet who showed her family’s courage in seizing what was hers from the upstarts who tried to wrest it from her. I have more sympathy for her than I did yet her actions in trying to force one religion on the country reinforce my belief that Church and State definitely need to be separate.
And yet, my main problem ends up being with the narrator herself. Hannah starts the book as a fourteen year old who has witnessed horrible things, who had to leave her beloved mother to die in order to save herself, who has had to flee across the face of Europe, and whose life is by no means safe in England even before she gets caught up in the life or death intrigues of Court. She is constantly in danger, is told to keep her head low to avoid attracting the wrong sort of notice, knows that if she is discovered as a Jew or even thought of as a heretic Protestant Christian once the fires begin to burn at Smithfield she could bring death to her father, her betrothed and his family. Yet, she does some incredibly stupid things. She repeatedly hurls herself into dangerous situations and her puppydog infatuation with Lord Robert Dudley comes off life a teenager with a crush on a pop singer. Once or twice, I can see. She’s young (even though most girls of her age were often already married by age 14) and in the throws of a first love but after that, what she did often made little sense to me. I was glad to see her mature at the end of the book but it took too many years for her to wise up. The last 150 pages of the story were fine but wading through her early teenage foolishness, given the baggage you loaded her with, was sometimes a trial.
I loved the history in this book, for the most part I liked Hannah when she was relating what was happening around her but it ultimately ends up a B.