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Carpe Librum

Bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.


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Historical Novel Society

Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

Queen's Gambit: A Novel - Elizabeth Fremantle

This novel is an exceptional debut that introduces the reader to a Katherine Parr who is more than others have written her to be. She is a pious nurse to older husbands, but that is far from all there is to Queen Katherine. Fremantle has created a multi-dimensional character and bravely filled in historical gaps to create a gripping story.


I especially enjoyed the development of Katherine's faith as a reformer. It is easy for us, with almost 500 years of separation, to categorize historical figures into Catholic and Reformist and not appreciate the nuances and waverings that occur in each person's personal beliefs. In Katherine's story, we see her fire for reform burn brightly, become doused by physical fear, and come under the attack of doubt. This realistic portrayal of faith formed a secret window into Katherine's inner heart without becoming preachy. I was only disappointed that the publication of Lamentations of a Sinner was overshadowed by her rekindled romance with Seymour.


Katherine's story is told in parallel with her servant Dot's, allowing readers to view both sides of the Tudor court. Through Dot's eyes, we see the endless toil that is required to provide a glittering backdrop to those who are so far above them. Dot's own lovestory is as captivating but more pure than Katherine's.


The most significant negative that I see voiced about this novel is the way that Fremantle chooses to fill in some historical gaps. Two that are very near the beginning of the book and can therefore be shared without being spoilers are that Katherine was raped, resulting the the birth of a dead baby, during the Pilgrimage of Grace, and that Katherine gave her second husband, John Neville, a lethal dose of painkiller to end his suffering. There are other literary liberties taken that may not have been as harshly judged if they were more carefully revealed in Fremantle's author's note. In my opinion, these elements of the story were bold and unique. Since there is no way of knowing if they are true, I think it is enough that the author has made them plausible to her version of events.


Tudor dress, food, castles, and landscape are all expertly recreated, making it easy to imagine the details of Katherine's life. Thomas Seymour is written just as I have imagined him: handsome, desirable, and completely manipulative. Katherine's drawn out obsession with him is the only part of this book that I could have done with less of. The beginning and end of this novel are fluffy, romantic bookends to the captivating story of England's Reform Queen.