Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory

Book Description:
A young woman caught in the rivalry between Queen Mary and her half sister, Elizabeth, must find her true destiny amid treason, poisonous rivalries, loss of faith, and unrequited love.

It is winter, 1553. Pursued by the Inquisition, Hannah Green, a fourteen-year-old Jewish girl, is forced to flee Spain with her father. But Hannah is no ordinary refugee. Her gift of "Sight," the ability to foresee the future, is priceless in the troubled times of the Tudor court. Hannah is adopted by the glamorous Robert Dudley, the charismatic son of King Edward's protector, who brings her to court as a "holy fool" for Queen Mary and, ultimately, Queen Elizabeth. Hired as a fool but working as a spy; promised in wedlock but in love with her master; endangered by the laws against heresy, treason, and witchcraft, Hannah must choose between the safe life of a commoner and the dangerous intrigues of the royal family that are inextricably bound up in her own yearnings and desires.

Teeming with vibrant period detail and peopled by characters seamlessly woven into the sweeping tapestry of history, The Queen's Fool is another rich and emotionally resonant gem from this wonderful storyteller.

I've waited a long time to read this book. I've read all the others in this series, except for her latest one, The Other Queen (which I hear is not that great) and I'm happy to say that I enjoyed this read about Hannah, the queen's fool. Having read this series out of order, I found it was sort of advantageous. This is the book that preceeds The Virgin's Lover, so while reading The Queen's Fool I was already aware of what happens in regard to some of the major characters and future plotlines, such as what happens with Lord Dudley, his wife, Amy, and of course the Princess Elizabeth, future Queen of England.

This is primarily the story of Hannah and her life at Court under Queen Mary. The Jewish daughter of a bookseller and printer who must hide her true faith, she also has the Sight and can sometimes foretell the future in a blurting out trance kind of way. She haphazardly meets Lord Robert Dudley (who we get to know much better in The Virgin Queen, and he's just as dashing in this book as well). He sees for himself that Hannah does indeed have the Sight. She becomes his vassal - the holy fool in the court - for it is believed she has the sight. Forever political and scheming, Dudley is well aware of how useful someone who can tell the future can be in the heady lifestyle at court with plots and schemes and knives in the back.

The ailing young King Edward is on the verge of death and through a series of events, Hannah becomes friends and confidante of first Princess Mary and then Queen Mary once she ascends the throne. She also becomes a companion to the Princess Elizabeth - who is characterized as being sexually promiscuous, a master plotter and schemestress and takes pleasure in seducing and hooking other women's husbands. Hannah sees all in both her Queen and Princess, but loves and cares for them both, even though the two of them are always on opposite sides. Elizabeth forever accused of treason and plotting against her sister, and Mary wanting to be a good older sister to Elizabeth, but torn by her Catholic faith of what she believes is the True Faith in religion for England. Elizabeth dazzles and Mary (poor thing) is a drudge for most of the book. I really felt sorry for her.

This is the backdrop of the story, but what I was drawn to was the arranged betrothal between Hannah and her young fiance, Daniel. He is an earnest young man, studying to be a doctor. He too is of the People (Jewish) but must hide it in these troubled times. They have an uneasy courtship. Hannah does not want to marry, she is happy at Court as the Fool. She dresses in britches and wears her hair like a boy (she is 14). Her Daniel patiently waits for her, insisting they will marry when she is 16. Hannah is torn between her attraction to Daniel in a way she can't exactly describe. The few kisses she's experienced with him leave her breathless, but she also has an attraction and hero worship for Lord Robert Dudley who spends most of his time in this book imprisoned in the Tower of London. He is a romantic character, larger than life to her and she cannot say no to him (although, later on when she is older, she does - and I was so proud of her!). Hannah and Daniel have their ups and downs but all along I was rooting for Daniel, though Dudley was pretty irresistible too.

Most of the book takes place in London at the various palaces and homes of the Court, but part of the book takes place in Calais where Hannah goes to live with Daniel, her father and Daniel's mother and sisters. Hannah is terribly unhappy there and away from Court and the book drags a bit in this part until the battle of Calais in which England loses it's stronghold there. Hannah must flee for her life back to England, leaving Daniel behind. They had become estranged before this and once she loses him she realizes (rather suddenly out of the blue, I thought) that she had always loved him all along. They have a complicated story, and I don't want to spoil it for those of you that haven't read it, but I liked the way the book ended.

I've always kind of liked these Philippa Gregory books, they are not exactly great historical fiction, but they are fast reads, entertaining and usually pretty exciting. I really like the Tudor period and the descriptions and backgrounds in the books make you feel like you are there living and experiencing life at Court, despite the historical innacuracies. I liked this book better than The Virgin's Lover, though it was not as good as The Other Boleyn Girl. There is some sex, but nothing graphic, but enough to be a little racey and give the book some flavor. I recommend this entire Tudor series, it's worthwhile reading and it's not a must to read them in order either.

4/5 for it's happy ending.

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