#70 ~ The Lady Elizabeth

May 21, 2008 at 9:13 pm | Posted in Books, Henry VIII, Historical Fiction | 5 Comments
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The Cover to The Lady Elizabeth

The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir

I had eagerly anticipated this book from the moment I first heard about it. When I heard that Tracy had a copy, there was virtually no stopping me from purchasing it and reading it immediately. While the writing was equally good here as it was in Innocent Traitor, the euphoric reading high I felt while reading Weir’s first novel did not carry forward into her second. The story of Elizabeth I‘s youth leading up to her rise to the English throne feels like well covered territory to me. That which was new or different in this novel wasn’t enough to have me hanging on every last word like before. Perhaps that is the danger of anticipating anything too much.

It’s not that The Lady Elizabeth wasn’t enjoyable. It was never boring. It just was never the captivating novel I was hoping it would be. There was a point fairly early in the novel where a rivalry was building between Kat, Elizabeth’s governess, and the final wife of Henry VIII, Queen Katherine Parr. My mouth almost watered with anticipation when it felt like this was ramping up to something. For me, that build up led no where. Even her encounters with Lord Seymour didn’t capture my imagination the way that they have in The Last Wife of Henry VIII or The Queen’s Fool. In fact, they felt a little flat and forced. I’m not sure if this is because I’ve already read about some of these scenes before or if it is because they were better seen through the eyes of other characters.

The most enjoyable aspect of this novel for me was Weir’s exploration of the father-daughter relationship between Henry and Elizabeth. How strange it must have been for him to fully embrace the daughter of a woman he had tried and condemned for high treason, especially if he had doubts about her guilt. How troubling it must have been for a young girl to feel such strong love for both parents while wondering where her loyalties should lie in the deadly fight that was between them long before she was old enough to know any better.

At the end of the novel, the author points out several aspects of the novel that she felt might be quite controversial. I didn’t find those things controversial at all. This is a work of fiction and, with the exception of making a three year old much wiser for her years than any three year old I have ever met, they were all quite plausible journeys into the “what ifs” of Elizabeth’s life.

I do not say these things to dissuade people from reading this novel. Alison Weir is a skilled author and this book is an good read about Elizabeth’s early life in one place. I would suggest it more to those who have yet to discover her in fiction. For others, it might feel a bit like reviewing for a test you could easily pass without studying.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#26 ~ Innocent Traitor

June 5, 2007 at 9:11 pm | Posted in Amazing Narrator, Books, Henry VIII, Historical Fiction, Reading, Religion | 3 Comments
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With this book I have reached the summit!

Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

As I have made my way through the wives of Henry the 8th, this book seemed the next logical choice. This book deals with the rise and fall of Lady Jane Grey, the woman who rules England as Queen for nine short days between the reign of King Edward and Queen Mary. Alison Weir is a historian as is known for her academic accounts of the English monarchy. Innocent Traitor is Weir’s first attempt at using fiction to fully flesh out historic characters and fill in those things that can never be known. This book was a wonderful reading experience, independent of the fact that I read it while at the beach. I would heartily recommend it to anyone who has read The Other Boleyn Girl and/or The Boleyn Inheritance. You will not be disappointed.

Lady Jane Grey was born to Henry the 8th’s niece, Frances. Frances and her husband are selfish people who long only for the good life brought about by being wealthy land owners and members of the royal family. After losing two sons in infancy, Frances is bitter when she bares Jane, a healthy, strapping girl. From the moment Jane’s sex is known, Frances hardens her heart. Jane only becomes valuable to her when Queen Jane gives birth to Prince Edward, her uncle’s sole male heir. Within weeks of her birth, Jane is surrounded by people plotting to use her to their own advantage.

From the very beginning Jane experiences only harshness and displeasure from her mother. Because she is unknowingly being groomed to be a future queen of England, her mother uses a heavy hand with her. Jane, an intelligent and inquisitive child who grows into a sober and scholarly young woman, has a will of her own that her mother cannot break. She is content to spend her life reading in the pursuit of knowledge and righteousness before God. While her parent’s faith changes at the whim of the monarch, Jane grows to become a devout, outspoken, and idealistic Protestant under the tutelage of the doctors chosen specifically by Queen Katherine Parr to teach her. Like many stanch idealists, Jane lacks diplomacy and tact when speaking about faith. Believing that she knows the real truth about God, she refuses to hold her tongue, even in front of Princess Mary, an equally devout and staunch Roman Catholic.

It is the combination of the ultimately ill-fated plotting against the succession of the English monarchy and Jane’s unwavering faith in Protestantism that ultimately bring about her demise.

It was interesting reading this book just after finishing March. Both of the narrators are wholly devout to the cause of their faith. They both loved knowledge and its pursuits about all other pleasures. They both lacked tact and diplomacy, believing that they were proclaiming the will of God to the people of their time. They both were taken about as to how others could not believe the way that they do. Where Captain March was led haphazardly by his shame and fear of damnation, Jane stood defiant and confident in her own salvation without fear of death. Interestingly, it is how they differ that brought about their downfalls.

#24 ~ The Last Wife of Henry VIII

May 22, 2007 at 10:52 pm | Posted in Books, Henry VIII, Historical Fiction, Reading | 6 Comments
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The Last Wife of Henry VIII by Carolly Erickson

This was my first foray into books about the wives of Henry the 8th that was not written by Philippa Gregory. I have to admit that I was somewhat concerned that the quality of the writing and the story would not meet my expectations. Thankfully, that was not so. I enjoyed The Last Wife of Henry VIII very much.

This novel tells the story of Catherine Parr, the woman who was to become Henry’s last wife – and one of only two who managed to survive him. Unlike several of Henry’s wives, Catherine Parr did not have ambitions to become queen or to hold any lofty title at that. She remained in Henry’s favor long after she first asked him to intercede on her behalf when settling the issue of her first marriage. From that point forward, it was simply a matter of the right stars falling into proper alignment.

The wife I did not write about

The wife I did not write about

Catherine blamed Henry for the death of her first husband and her unborn child. She cursed him and avoided him whenever possible. She even accepted the marriage proposal of a kindly, yet old, man to “escape” the king’s request that she join the court as one of Queen Katherine Howard‘s ladies in waiting. She did not love Lord Latimer, but he was a gentleman in every sense of the word and she enjoyed caring for her stepdaughter. It was while married to him that she met and became lovers with Thomas Seymour, the uncle of Henry’s only male heir, Prince Edward. There plans for marrying after Lord Latimer’s death were thwarted, however, by Henry. As her soveriegn king, Catherine could not turn down his proposal. All that Catherine had left was the courage and the hope to survive her third marriage with her life.

While reading this book, I felt as though I got to know a little of what it was like to live with our King Henry at the end of his life. It was actually quite sad how paranoid and unhappy he became. He started down the slippery slope of believing his own hype years before, but as his health declined, his common sense and ability to discern situations and people quickly deteriorated. He was a man who had everything, yet nothing at all.

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