Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory

This novel tells the story of a young woman who lives her life perpetually caught in between, and who knows what it is like to live life always looking over your shoulder in fear.
Disguised as a boy with cropped hair and breeches, Hannah Green (actually Hannah Verde) and her bookseller father, left Spain after Hannah's mother was burned by the Inquisition. They are Jews, hiding in plain sight, who have come to make their home in England. But there is something special about Hannah, she has the gift of second sight, she sees visions of things that will come to pass though often in such hazy form she doesn't know or understand.

A chance meeting with Robert Dudley and his tutor, the alchemist scholar Dr. John Dee brings Hannah to court as a Holy Fool, first to serve the frail and dying Edward VI then later Queen Mary.
Here is where Hannah truly begins her life of being caught in between. She is dazzled by Robert Dudley and confused by her like one minute and not the next relationship with her fiance Daniel. She likes her independent lifestyle in boy's breeches working in the bookshop with her father and later at court as a fool and is loathe to give it up for the skirts of a woman and the humdrum life of a wife and mother chained to home and hearth with children at her apron strings and a husband whom she is supposed to view as God's earthly representative whom she is bound to serve and obey without quarrel or question. And she is torn between the Tudor sisters, kind Mary and charismatic Elizabeth who are caught up in their own rivalry that makes thunder roll around the throne.

As "Bloody Mary", hellbent on restoring the Catholic faith to England, descends further and further into paranoia and madness, augmented by jealousy over her husband's attraction to her sister, and the sorrow of her phantom pregnancies, even Hannah becomes suspect in Mary's eyes and comes so close to danger that she almost feels the scorch of the flames that burn the heretics and is driven to flee.
While many quibble about the historical accuracy of Ms. Gregory's novels, I've never felt that is what reading fiction is about. In my opinion, putting a novel under the microscope for this kind of nitpicking distracts and detracts from the story the author is trying to tell. Personally, I really enjoyed this novel, although there was one niggling little detail I would have liked clarified--Dr. John Dee appears unexpectedly to save Hannah in her moment of danger, but it is never explained how a man known for his alchemical experiments and suspected of dabbling in the dark arts came to be in a position to advise Bishop Bonner when he examines accused heretics and decides who is destined for the stake. Other than this, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Of the fictional characters Ms. Gregory has created that I have read, I think Hannah is the most likable and easy to relate to and sympathize with.

1 comment:

lizzy J said...

Brandy this was by far my most loved Gregory read. I have read them all and this one is my top favorite with The Constant Princess in at second place. Wonderful Review!!! You are right it is fiction for a reason and that is why I love it so so much.