Book Review

Book Review of Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

Queen's Gambit book review

Queen's Gambit: A Novel

Queen's Gambit is an absolute masterpiece! I've now added Elizabeth Fremantle to my list of the historical fiction "greats" along with authors like Phillipa Gregory, Sharon Kay Penman, Margaret George, etc. Though not as detailed or "demanding" as a Penman book, for a first novel this is an outstanding accomplishment and I can't wait to see what else she comes up with. Elizabeth's storytelling grips you from the very beginning through to the end and breathes new life into the super-saturated topic of King Henry's reign.

The novel begins in 1543 with Katherine nursing her first dying husband through her own death in 1548. So much happens during these five years and even though I knew the outcome, the book was filled with suspense and really illuminated Katherine's life as I've never seen any other author do.

After her husband's death, Katherine falls in love with the handsome, ambitious Thomas Seymour. Just as it seems she'll finally catch a taste of happiness, she catches the King's eye. It's not something she can turn down and she must play along, all the while disgusted and terrified and knowing she has no more choice as if she were a child being told what to do.

"'Queen's gambit accepted,' says the King, taking her white pawn, rolling it between fat fingers.
  He looks at her, sunken eyes flashing, his breath wheezing as if there is no space for air in him.
'I could make you Queen,' he declares.
Droplets of spit land next to her ear.

'You tease, Your Majesty,' she says.

'Perhaps,' he growls. 'Perhaps not.'"

…"There is no escaping. Though, she reasons, if she can't be Seymour's wife, is it such a very poor consolation to be Queen of England and raise the Parrs higher than they'd ever hoped? But then she thinks of those great paws prodding at her, and his stench, and the terror he ignites…"

Katherine soon finds herself separated from Thomas, married to the King and caught in the intrigue in a court that "may be beautiful on the outside but inside it is ugly as sin". As she gets caught up in the Reformation and the plots swirling around the court, the temperamental Henry begins to be influenced by her enemies and Katherine is soon not only in fear of her husband, but also for her life.

In the book Henry is an absolute tyrant, used to getting his way like a great, hulking toddler. With his fetid wound and a temper to match, Fremantle was a master at conveying the loathing Katherine felt for her husband, laced with duty. Her strength, dignity and intelligence are portrayed skillfully and you can't help but sympathize with her and have your heart break with every negative turn of the story, especially one specific betrayal that shook Katherine to the core. She was an amazing woman, duty-bound and a survivor of so much. Although I already knew many details of her life, Fremantle really raised her out of the flat portrayal of a nursemaid and breathed so much life into her character. When I got to the end of the book I was really sad at not only the book's end, but Katherine's end. Having successfully navigated such turbulent times, it just didn't seem fair that she finally succumbed in childbirth with (finally!!) the smallest bit of happiness wrapped up with her baby's coming.

While the book is about Katherine, it's also told from a second perspective of her servant, Dot. This really allows you a view into two worlds - from the very top to near the very bottom. Fremantle is a master at bringing both of these worlds to life, never neglecting even the small details that make all the difference in helping to immerse a reader in the time period. She doesn't bog you down in them though and the novel moves at a brisk pace that never left me bored. I really feel this novel gave Katherine the credit she deserves and painted a beautiful picture of the woman and her times. Highly recommended.

Note: This book is not appropriate for children/teens due to s*xual content.

*I recieved a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

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