Saturday, January 16, 2010

Review: The Other Queen


The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory
3 stars


Reasons for reading: I've enjoyed her other books; Person's Title book for the What's in a Name? Challenge

From the description: "Biographers often neglect the captive years of Mary Queen of Scots, who trusted Queen Elizabeth's promise of sanctuary when she fled from rebels in Scotland and then found herself imprisoned as the "guest" of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury and his indomitable wife, Bess of Hardwick. The newly married couple welcome the doomed queen into their home, certain that serving as her hosts and jailors will bring them an advantage in the cutthroat world of the Elizabethan court. To their horror, they find that the task will bankrupt them, and as their home becomes the epicenter of intrigue and rebellion against Elizabeth, their loyalty to each other and to their sovereign comes into question. If Mary succeeded in seducing the Earl, or if the great spy master William Cecil linked them to the growing conspiracy to free Mary from her illegal imprisonment, they will all face the headsman."

First line: "Every woman should marry for her own advantage since her husband will represent her, as visible as her front door, for the rest of his life."

My thoughts: This one just didn't have the page-turning appeal of the Boleyn books for me. It was interesting to learn about Mary, Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick (whom I hadn't heard of before) and Gregory always does a fine job of portraying the period, her research and love of the subject is obvious. But the book is very repetitive. It's told in alternating short chapters from the perspectives of George, Bess, and Mary, but a lot of it is just repeating that George is honourable, his family has served the crown for generations and he loves Queen Mary; Bess is the Protestant daughter of a poor widow and has had to claw her way to wealth through 4 husbands and Mary's imprisonment is bankrupting her; and Mary is a young, beautiful Catholic queen three times over who must be free. And then there's a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between several dank castles as the Hardwicks are ordered to move Mary to "keep her safe," that is, keep her imprisoned and away from her supporters. There are a couple of big buildups to either the Northern lords or the Spanish saving her, but they fail. The book is probably quite realistic in that way - a lot of waiting in between frenzied moments of activity and panic. But it doesn't make for riveting fiction.

I just turned 35 and it was very depressing to hear 35-year-old Elizabeth being described as old and almost barren!! She comes off badly - vain, skinflinty, cruel, and a victim of her trusted advisor Cecil's paranoia over foreigners and Catholics. Not that Mary looks much better - bankrupting the only person looking out for her, not trustworthy, and as vain as Elizabeth (though with more reason, at least at the beginning of the book). I'm still thinking one day I'd like to read a comprehensive biography of Elizabeth, I do find her quite amazing, and maybe I'll learn more about Mary, too. This book wasn't a bad introduction to her, but I could've used a story with less repetition and more action.

4 comments:

Marie Burton said...

I agree with your assessments, this was not a great portrayal of any of these characters and not a great book in the first place.
Jean Plaidy's The Captive Queen & The Road to Forheringay were much much better reads that I would recommend for your pleasure; regarding Mary Queen of Scots.
As far as nonfiction.. I really enjoyed Bess of Hardwick by Sarah Gristwood.

tinylittlelibrarian said...

Thanks, Marie, those sound like great recommendations!

Beth F said...

I liked Margaret George's book about Mary.

tinylittlelibrarian said...

Thanks, Beth! I'm glad I have such history-savvy folks dropping by!