Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Review: The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

Mary, Queen of Scots was in her mid-twenties and had only been on the throne of Scotland for a few years when the rebel lords banded together to force her to their will. She feared a forced marriage, rape or imprisonment and so she fled the country. If she had only gotten on a boat and headed for France, where she had been raised, or Spain, a sympathetic Catholic country, history would have turned out very differently. But she didn't. She fled south, across the border into England. She was under the misguided notion that her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, would take care of her and restore her to the throne of Scotland.

Of course, Queen Elizabeth could never have given true assistance to a rival for her own throne. Plus Mary was a magnet for every Catholic lord who would rather see someone of their own faith in power. The result was a very long sixteen year prison sentence for Mary that ended in her execution.

George Talbot, The Earl of Shrewsbury, and his wife Bess of Hardwick were the unhappy jailers for Queen Mary. They had no choice in the matter and never received any money for her keep. The result was that they spent their entire fortune, over the years, providing the level of luxurious furnishings, food, and lifestyle that a Queen is supposed to have. Only it is supposed to be provided to her by the taxation of a nation of subjects and the burden was too much for George and Bess to bear. Their marriage suffered from the strain. George's infatuation with the Queen didn't help, either.

This novel covers the first three years of Queen Mary's imprisonment in England. Several plots were hatched and one went so far as to raise an army. But they came to nothing thanks to the lukewarm support of Spain and the extensive spy network set up by Elizabeth's chief advisor, William Cecil.

I love Philippa Gregory's novels and always eagerly await a new one. To me, this one was a bit of a disappointment. It has well developed and interesting characters and excellent historical accuracy. I think the problem lies in the chosen subject. There had not been a historical novel written about Mary's imprisonment before, probably because it couldn't have been very exciting. In this story there were several plots hatched, a platonic love affair and some excitement in changing locations. The narrative switches between the points-of-view of Mary, Bess and George and that adds some interest, but the unfortunate fact is that the novel is just a little boring. I found myself really disliking poor Queen Mary, whose constant refrain of "I must be free" made me want to smack her. It is well worth a read for lovers of historical fiction and, of course, a must for Philippa Gregory fans, but it is my least favorite of all of her books.

The Other Queen is published by Touchstone. ISBN 978-1-4165-4912-3

Order The Other Queen from Amazon


blacklin said...

I have this book on my tbr list. I love historical fiction.

The Tome Traveller said...

I love historical fiction, too. I think that I would have been less disappointed in this book had it not been written by Philippa Gregory. It's a good story, but she has set the bar so high that I expect more from one of her books.

S. Krishna said...

I found this book really disappointing as well. I thought it was just a bunch of complaining from everyone. "I'm a QUEEN!" "My husband is spending all my money." "I'm in love with Mary but loyal to Elizabeth". Seriously, the whole book! My review's posting on Saturday.

Lana said...

Actually, I've read at least one novel about Mary's imprisonment - it was a YA historical called You Never Knew Her as I Did. I remember really liking it, actually because it centered around a page who was participating in a plot to free Mary.

Too bad to hear you were disappointed here, though.

The Tome Traveller said...

Wow Lana, I would love to read that one, for comparison. Thanks for the comment!

Ladytink_534 said...

I loved Philippa Gregory's The Queen's Fool and The Other Boleyn Girl but it's been years since I read either one. Maybe I should read one of her other historicals before this one.

Tracy said...

I think I will pass on this one, Your review is the third disappointed one I've read. I agree that it would be hard to live up to The Other Boleyn Girl

tashiana said...

hmmm the plot souned really interesting
the point of view of the forced jailers really sparked my interest
its unfortunate that it turned out to be boring

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Bibliophile, Anglophile, Traveller... I have been an avid reader all of my life, since I took the Dr. Seuss Dictionary away from my Mom when I was less than a year old because I wanted to read it myself. In college, where I earned my degree in English Literature, I was often asked "What are you going to do with it?" Now I finally have the answer to that question!!! Being employed as a Flight Attendant for twenty years has given me a lot of life experience and, better still, a lot of time to read. I love to travel for fun, too.