Posted By Claire on March 13, 2013
This treat for historical fiction fans has just come out in the UK and comes out on 11th June in the US. It is the debut novel from Fashion editor Elizabeth Fremantle and Fremantle is definitely one to watch as the book is a wonderful read.
The novel follows the story of Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife, from 1543, when she is nursing her dying second husband, to her death in September 1548. It is a novel covering just five years, but it was an action packed five years in Katherine’s life – she lost a husband, fell in love with another man but had her hopes dashed, married a king who had executed two of his wives, survived a plot against her, lost her third husband and then married for love, only to be betrayed and then die. Phew! You’d think it was far-fetched if it wasn’t true!
Many people still think of Katherine as the woman who was nothing but a nurse to Henry VIII during his final years, but that’s not the Katherine of this book or the Katherine of history. Katherine was an intelligent woman, a committed reformer and published author. She survived a rebellion which saw her taken hostage, she built good relationships with her stepchildren and ward, and Henry chose her to act as regent while he was at war in France. That is the Katherine of the Queen’s Gambit, a strong character who survives the intrigues and corruption of the Tudor court and who leaves the world a better place for her having lived. The Katherine of the novel has a way with people, she is loved and respected, and from the start you can’t help but empathise with her and the situation she finds herself in, when she has to sacrifice her dreams for the greater good.
Of course, there are blanks in Katherine’s story. We don’t know what happened to her when she was held hostage with her stepchildren during the Pilgrimage of Grace, we don’t know her feelings towards Henry VIII, we don’t know her relationship with Anne Askew and other reformers, and we don’t know the full nature of Thomas Seymour’s relationship with the young Elizabeth. It is an historical novelist’s job to fill these blanks in using their imagination, but to make their choices make sense. Although the filling in of the blanks regarding Katherine’s experiences during the rebellion, Elizabeth and Seymour’s relationship, and Latymer’s death didn’t sit comfortably with me, it did work for the story and who knows what happened? Fremantle’s author’s note explains some of the liberties she took, but not all of them, so I would have liked some more detail here.
The thing I really loved about the novel is that there are parallel storylines. Although Katherine is the main character, you also have the story of Dot, who had served Katherine since her first marriage and who was held hostage with her and Katherine’s stepdaughter, Meg, and then, to a lesser extent, the stories of Meg and Huicke, the King’s physician. Dot is a wonderful character and I loved seeing the events at court through her eyes and seeing what happened to her as her loyalty to her mistress put her in danger.
The Queen’s Gambit really is a riveting read and will be enjoyed by all those who love historical fiction.
“For fans of Hilary Mantel, Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, Elizabeth Fremantle’s first novel, Queen’s Gambit, is a riveting account of Katherine Parr, the Tudor queen who married four men and outlived three of them – including Henry VIII.
Widowed for the second time aged thirty-one, Katherine is obliged to return to court but, suspicious of the aging Henry and those who surround him, she does so with reluctance. Nevertheless when she finds herself caught up in a passionate affair with the dashing and seductive Thomas Seymour, she believes she might finally be able to marry for love. But her presence at court has attracted the attentions of another…
Captivated by her honesty and intelligence, Henry Tudor has his own plans for Katherine and no one is in the position to refuse a proposal from the king. With her charismatic lover dispatched to the continent, Katherine becomes Henry’s sixth wife.
Passionate about religious reform, and ever aware of the fates of his previous queens, she must draw upon all her instincts and intellect to navigate the treachery of the court. With the Catholic faction once more in the ascendency, reformers burned for heresy and those around the dying king vying for position in the new regime, her survival seems unlikely – and yet she has still not quite given up on love…
Rich in atmosphere and period detail, and told through the eyes of Katherine and her young maid Dot, Queen’s Gambit is the story of two very different women during a terrifying and turbulent time. If you loved Wolf Hall, The Other Boleyn Girl or the BBC drama series The Tudors, then Elizabeth Fremantle’s Queen’s Gambit is the book for you.”
Hardcover: 480 pages
Publisher: Michael Joseph (Mar 2013) in the UK, Simon & Schuster (June 11, 2013) in the US.
ISBN-10: 0718177061 for the UK, 147670306X for the US
ISBN-13: 978-0718177065 for the UK, 978-1476703060 for the US
Available to buy now at Amazon UK and to pre-order at Amazon.com