The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory (4 out of 5)











This review is coming to you from one who supposedly doesn’t read historical fiction (my coworker told me that no one in my store reads historical fiction; he obviously hasn’t paid attention to a good majority of the fiction I read. Hmmph). I love Philippa Gregory; her novels were a lot of the reason I picked up historical fiction (Sandra Gulland also!) in the first place back in the day at the second book stall I worked for. Her novels are incredibly realistic; historically accurate, and yes, intimate in the ways and means of the development of her characters in whatever time period she threw herself into. This is the last installment of her Cousins’ War series. i’m sorry to see it go, as I have enjoyed it immensely. 

This installment is the story of Margaret Pole, Elizabeth of York’s cousin, and Katherine of Aragon’s lady-in-waiting (You remember Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first, extremely devout wife). Since every woman milling about the court and their poodle were considered a threat to Henry VII’s throne, Margaret is married off to Sir Richard Pole, a kind and gentle man. Her life is going along seemingly well until the arrival of Arthur, the Prince of Wales, and Katherine of Aragon, his young bride. Margaret gets in good with the young couple and enjoys a life at court until Arthur’s sudden death. Grieving but accepting the inevitable promise she made to her dying husband, Katherine marries Henry VIII. Margaret is again thrust into the court and its scandal and politics when Katherine sends for her service in the new court. You sense some shit is going to hit the fan, and sure enough, Ms. Anne Boleyn brings a big, stinking pile of it with her and her seductress charm, and breaks up the marriage of Henry and Katherine. The Boleyn wrecking ball brings down the entire Tudor court, and Henry’s reign as we have come to know it. Margaret’s cushy life and times are hurled about with the force of the entity known as Anne B. She faces all sorts of personal and ethical quandaries; is she sticking with Katherine, despite the impending dissolution of the royal marriage, or does she go with Henry and Anne? Do you believe in deities as you have known them your entire time at the court, or do you flip to the religious views of those who are trouncing into court like a hyperactive horse? Interesting questions, but also ones that you have had to confront time and time again, in different books, different time periods, different authors and books. The Tudor dynasty was marked by a great many upheavals, and almost always due to the traitorous heart or political aspirations among the power mad and hungry. To see that Margaret faces those same struggles, well, it’s historically accurate, but I also hope that Gregory takes it into a new direction that hasn’t been brought to the table. It is fiction, so it can be embellished a little bit. She has such a way of making these characters come to life; I always hope for her to tread some new waters and create new waves of emotional tumult. So, there’s that. That took a little bit of the va-voom out of it for me. 

There are secrets, as there are in all medieval courts, and there’s one here lying in wait, that our heroine Margaret knows about. She has to either keep it to herself and ride out all of the shock waves, or she has to come out and spill the secrets, and face the consequences. Loyalties, bad blood, forbidden passions, and all of the usual suspects show up to play a historical game of Clue. As she always does, Gregory imbues the characters with the fire of light and spirit, and even manages to make the loathsome Henry VIII somewhat sympathetic, which is not easy, due to the pictures and dartboard targets that have been made of him throughout history and its fictional retelling of that time in history. But she doesn’t push the envelope any beyond the formulaic historical novel that she has always excelled in. I yearned for some shocker or some whopper that made all hell break loose, and it just isn’t there. What is there? Her usual lively rendering of that time and the persons in the court who made it so unforgettable. There’s no detail forgotten, no cobblestone street left unturned in the quest for legitimacy in the story, so you know that when you’re reading a Philippa Gregory novel, it’s as close to the real as it can be. I just wish she had taken a little bit more of a chance with her lead character than she did and challenged our perceptions a little bit more. Still a fantastic story and she doesn’t miss out on anything, nor do her characters suffer from not being developed completely, but a little bit of a change would have made it more fun. 

~ by generationgbooks on May 25, 2014.

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