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Elizabeth Fremantle – Queen’s Gambit

Book Cover

The one who survived.

Publisher: Michael Joseph (Penguin)
Pages: 446
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-718-17706-5
First Published: 13th March 2013
Date Reviewed: 17th July 2013
Rating: 5/5

Katherine Parr had already been married twice when she met Thomas Seymour, but those unions had not been founded on love or produced children, so when she fell in love with the man it seemed as though her future was set for happiness. But King Henry VIII has other ideas – he wants Katherine for himself. Alongside this is the fictional tale of Dot, Katherine’s maid, who is practically a daughter to the destined queen.

Queen’s Gambit is a fine novel that combines history with what-ifs and dreams, and looks at the era from a particularly literary perspective.

The book is told slowly but never dully, from the points of view of Katherine, Dot, and occasionally Katherine’s doctor. This method is intriguing, a present tense in which no personal pronouns are used but the scenes are never confusing. Fremantle makes it clear within a paragraph or so who is telling their tale. If ‘telling their tale’ is an appropriate description, given the style.

For the most part, Fremantle sticks to what is widely known about Katherine, using her imagination for gaps and bringing the people to life with her ideas of how they would have felt. However Dot is completely fictional, representing not simply a stereotype but being a way for Fremantle to further demonstrate her thoughts about Katherine Parr – Dot is a lowly maid but Katherine treats her particularly well, aligning with what we know of her nature as a good woman. It’s obvious that Dot is fictional, partly because of this treatment, but that obviousness actually enhances Fremantle’s credibility. And the mixture of pure fiction with fact works well.

Considering what’s been said so far, it will come as no surprise that Fremantle takes liberties with the history overall. Most notable is the beginning, Latymer’s end. This has the potential to colour the entire reading as it makes a pretty bold statement, yet once again Fremantle shows her hand – she is speculating, providing ideas and creating entertainment, not trying to insert her views as fact.

The comparison, in Fremantle’s favour, with Philippa Gregory, is hard to escape. Fremantle makes some people dislikeable, but unlike Gregory she doesn’t show an active hatred herself, the dislike is all on the characters’ front. And the dislike is somewhat cancelled out by the thoughts of the other characters. You may unexpectedly dislike a certain red-headed teenager during this book, for example, but if anything Fremantle has provided that needed other opinion of a person generally regarded favourably. It is always important to bear both sides in mind and here we have that other side, and it’s not forced on you.

There is a lot of thinking in the book, in the main thoughts replace general descriptions, being rivalled only by dialogue for winner of most amount of space employed. In another situation these thoughts would be considered info-dumping, telling, but due to the amount of non-descriptive dialogue this possibility is in the main cancelled out. And whilst the book doesn’t move particularly fast, it’s not slow enough to bring too much attention to what little ‘telling’ there is.

Queen’s Gambit doesn’t offer anything new beyond speculation, but that was to be expected. The reader has to be willing to read Fremantle’s fictional take on Katherine that doesn’t completely match popular thinking but does provide the popular sentiment. And what Fremantle has done for this lesser-known queen is to be commended. We may not know as much about Katherine Parr as, say, Anne Boleyn, but she is worthy of our study and time.

Queen’s Gambit is a quiet but fine book about the queen who outlived the tyrannical Henry VIII and had a matrimonial history of her own. Enter into it with an open mind and enjoy, and don’t worry about historical accuracy or liberties taken too much – this reviewer is a stickler for accuracy and she enjoyed it a lot.

I received this book for review from the publisher.

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Jennifer

August 12, 2013, 1:06 pm

Wonderful review! I’m so curious about this book, now I want to read it even more :D

jessicabookworm

August 12, 2013, 4:27 pm

I have read interesting things about this book. I would like to read it. I am only gutted I missed out on a free copy when it was offered for a short while on Amazon!

Anbolyn

August 12, 2013, 10:23 pm

Fascinating subject! I’ve seen this book promoted a lot in the press and I thought it sounded intriguing – your review has made me sure that it is something I want to try. I must get on the waiting list at the library!

Jennifer

August 13, 2013, 11:46 am

Sounds like a fascinating story – love the idea of considering her beyond her relationship with Henry

Jenny @ Reading the End (formerly Jenny’s Books)

August 14, 2013, 1:11 am

Well done Catherine Parr, outliving rotten Henry VIII. Does the book talk at all about the apparently fairly weird things that Thomas Seymour used to do to Elizabeth I when she was living with them? I have a vague recollection of this but can’t recall specifics…tickling maybe was involved?

Charlie

August 16, 2013, 1:34 pm

Jennifer (Relentless Reader): Thanks :) If I had to guess I’d say you’d likely like it.

Jessica: I know how you feel, I often do that myself. If you can get a copy I’d say the same as I have to Jennifer – you’ll likely enjoy it.

Anbolyn: There do seem to be copies displayed prominently everywhere. It helps that the hardback is gorgeous. Hope you enjoy it!

Jennifer (Books, Personally): Yes, it seems more writers are doing that (if mostly in non-fiction or in books focused on Elizabeth), and it’s so good. I only wish the same were happening for Anne of Cleves. Maybe it is and I’ve not noticed?

Jenny: Emailed you :) Fremantle explores the theory well.

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