Review – The Queen’s Rival: In the Court of Henry VIII

The Queen’s Rival: In the Court of Henry VIII

By Diane Haeger

Penguin Group

ISBN: 9781101478905

3.5 stars

I can’t pinpoint the moment I had my fill of Tudor stories but it occurred sometime in 2011. Yes, I lasted longer than most. I won’t pretend this will be my last either. Earlier this year I read a non-fiction book on Henry VIII and thought that would be my last but I forgot I had downloaded this to my Nook and found myself reading it when I needed something comforting — this is a setting I know well. I was out of town on a long business trip and I turned to it.

Elizabeth (Bess) Blount is a beautiful and naïve girl who lands a position in Queen Katherine’s household. This new position puts her directly in front of Henry VIII. Amazed by the opulence of the Court and especially by the King himself, she finds herself in a precarious situation. She can become the mistress to the King she believes she loves and in the process ruin her reputation and position with the Queen and possibly bring the downfall of her family. She picks Henry and gives him something he’s been wanting for years, a son.

While nothing about this story felt new, if you read enough books set in Tudor England nothing feels new, but it was well written and interesting. Parts were slow and at other times it felt as if large sections of Bess’s life were left out. We go from seeing her as a 14 year-old, and it feels as if only a few months worth of time, then she’s the King’s mistress and shortly after pregnant with his child. She finds a life outside of Court, and it’s a happy one at that, but it goes by so fast and I wondered when she turned 30. Besides that small quibble, it was good. A solid read.

I was wondering why I purchased this one considering I thought I was done with the Tudors and as it turns out it was for a challenge. So, now it appears I’m finished with The Royal Mistress Challenge. I ended on a good note then.

Review – The Tudor Secret

The Tudor Secret

By C.W. Gortner

St. Martin’s Griffin

ISBN: 978031265850-2

4 stars

A few years back, I overdosed on Tudor fiction but in the last few months I’ve been craving the drama, court intrigue, and ever present bedroom battles that come along with Henry VIII and his wives. What I liked about The Tudor Secret was that it wasn’t told from the perspective of the royal household, but from a 20 year-old with a blank past who is unceremoniously thrown into court life with the intent of letting it devour him.

Brendan Prescott knows nothing of his past other than he was abandoned as a baby and Mistress Alice, a woman who worked as a maid for the wealthy Dudley household, raised him. A child with no background or family, he knows only too well his lowly place in the household and society at-large. His hopes rise no higher than someday being a squire or a steward and even those positions don’t hold much interest for him. He would rather spend his days in the barn with the horses. When he is called to court by Lady Dudley to be a squire to her oldest son, Robert, his hopes of a peaceful life among horses are forgotten.

Knowing nothing of court life and with no one willing to teach him, he’s left alone among the court sharks looking to use him for their own gain, his Master Robert included. Robert promptly engages Brendan in court escapades that involve setting up a liaison with the Princess Elizabeth with whom he is in love. Brendan manages to find the Princess and deliver the message but he slowly begins to understand that nothing about court life is ever secret. Pulled unwillingly into a spy ring, Brendan becomes privy to the lives of his masters in ways he never imagined and ends up a double agent working not only for Master Robert but also to keep Princess Elizabeth safe and help her sister, Mary, to become Queen.

It is Brendan’s past though that keeps him involved long after he wants nothing more than to walk away. He wants to know who abandoned him that night so long ago but his real concern is for the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth. They are targets of people who want nothing more than to overthrow Mary and Elizabeth and convince their brother Edward that neither are true heirs to the throne.

Court intrigue and espionage are always terms that are mandatory when talking about the Tudors. The spying, backstabbing, and face-to-face pleasantries while secretly whispering lies behind a person’s back are well-known traits of this family and the court they created. It’s also what makes them all so much fun to read about. The fodder they have provided for future generations is enormous and I think that’s why, while I might need a break to recover from the tension of crown politics, I never entirely tire of the Tudors. Gortner zeroes in on this tension and the moment that Brendan arrives at court, he starts to ramp it up making you turn pages wanting to desperately know what comes next. Telling the story from an outsider’s point of view also makes the character of Elizabeth much more interesting. She’s well-known but an enigma to Brendan which adds freshness to a character that can feel stiff and sometimes a little standoffish.

Covering about two weeks worth of time, the story does feel a bit forced in places though and in particular Brendan who while understanding nothing of the Tudor court, manages to become involved and an integral part of a spy ring. He blunders too much in the beginning and to see him mature so quickly and in a mere matter of days, feels unlikely. But, he’s somehow still very likable and that’s what makes it work. He doesn’t immediately grasp the implications of every move made at court and that sets him apart from the others and you can’t help but side with him. If you’re looking for a book that will pull you back into the Tudor’s, this one’s a good choice.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for The Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.