Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory

The Queen's Fool is the third book by Philippa Gregory I've read, the first two being The Other Boleyn Girl and The Boleyn Inheritance. They were much better.

The thing that I most enjoy about Gregory's work is how historically accurate they are-- of course, no one can know exactly who said what to who and when, but when we have so much information about what happened and who these people are it's not too much of a stretch to infer what may have been said. Like in the Elizabeth movies starring Cate Blanchett. Gregory really brings these long-dead people to life.

But what made The Queen's Fool different from the other books I read was that this was the first one where the main character was a complete fabrication. And a very unrealistic one, at that. The title character is Hannah Verde, a Spanish Jew on the run from the Inquisition with her father after her mother was burned as a heretic. Hannah has the gift of "Sight", having random premonitions of the future. After seeing an angel accompanying Robert Dudley and his tutor as they entered Hannah's father's bookshop, Dudley "begs" her for a fool to the ailing King Edward.

I don't have any problem with this. I especially have no problem with anything involving Robert Dudley as, being a fan of Cate Blanchett's Elizabeth, in my mind he's played by Voldemort's studly younger brother, Joseph Fiennes.

The problem is that, after Edward dies, Hannah's career goes off into "What the hell?" land. Being paid by the Dudleys, Hannah is implanted into the service of Queen Mary. Immediately Mary takes her into her trust and inner circle- regardless of being a person of no standing and paid by Mary's enemies. It only gets worse from there as the Dudleys launch their plot to get Mary's sister Elizabeth onto the throne instead, with Hannah passing messages between the plotters and Elizabeth...and the whole book is like that-- Hannah is doing all of these treasonous things, the plotters are all in the prison in the Tower of London, but Hannah just gets away with everything. It only gets more complicated, treasonous, and heretical as it goes on but Mary and Elizabeth trust the girl implicitly, both divulging extremely personal and valuable information without so much as a second thought.

I understand why Gregory chose to do it this way-- Queen Mary's reign was an incredibly turbulent time for England and she needed a character on the inside with everyone regardless of their politics and that just didn't exist. It wouldn't have existed. It couldn't have. So instead of having the story come from several different points of view, like The Boleyn Inheritance, she created Hannah.

Hannah also serves the purpose of representing the underground Jewish families at the time, hiding from the Inquisition and fighting to keep their traditions and way of life alive while pretending to be good Christians.

I understand wanting to tell that story, it's an interesting angle of an interesting time and I wish Gregory had divorced the story of Mary's reign from the story of Hannah and the Jews and made them two separate
books. Perhaps Gregory was afraid to break her royal formula, but I think it could have worked. Or worked better, anyway.

All in all an entertaining read, but not of the quality I've come to expect from Gregory's books.

3 stars out of 5.

See Blauthor, Blauthor! for more of my reviews!

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