The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory Monday, Feb 13 2012 

Title: The Constant Princess
Author: Philippa Gregory
ISBN: 000719031X
Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:
Katherine of Aragon. We think of her as the barren wife of a notorious king; but behind this legacy lies a fascinating story. Katherine of Aragon is born Catalina, the Spanish Infanta, to parents who are both rulers and warriors. Aged four, she is betrothed to Arthur, Prince of Wales, and is raised to be Queen of England. She is never in doubt that it is her destiny to rule that far-off, wet, cold land. Her faith is tested when her prospective father-in-law greets her arrival in her new country with a great insult; Arthur seems little better than a boy; the food is strange and the customs coarse. Slowly she adapts to the first Tudor court, and life as Arthur’s wife grows ever more bearable. But when the studious young man dies, she is left to make her own future: how can she now be queen, and found a dynasty? Only by marrying Arthur’s young brother, the sunny but spoilt Henry. His father and grandmother are against it; her powerful parents prove little use. Yet Katherine is her mother’s daughter and her fighting spirit is strong. She will do anything to achieve her aim; even if it means telling the greatest lie, and holding to it.

Review:
Returning to a study of Tudor royalty, Gregory is certainly on top form. The story is intricate, yet it seems to whiz by at lightening pace. Catalina, the Spanish Infanta, is often seen as the dull 1st wife, set aside by Henry VIII, but this fictional retelling of fact shows her as a determined and strong woman who knew her mind and did her level best to succeed in what she saw as her destiny – the be a good Queen of England. This is engaging stuff and one into which any fan of historical fiction will find a pleasure to sink.

The Wise Woman by Philippa Gregory Sunday, Feb 12 2012 

Title: The Wise Woman
Author: Philippa Gregory
ISBN: 0006514642
Rating: 3/5

Synopsis:
Alys joins the nunnery to escape hardship and poverty but finds herself thrown back into the outside world when Henry VIII’s wreckers destroy her sanctuary. With nothing but her tools, her magic and her own instinctive cunning, Alys has to tread a perilous path between the faith of her childhood and her own female power. When she falls in love with Hugo, the feudal lord and another woman’s husband, she dips into witchcraft to defeat her rival and win her lover, only to find that magic makes a poor servant but a dominant master. Since heresy against the new church means the stake, and witchcraft the rope, Alys’s danger is mortal. A woman’s powers are no longer safe to use…

Review:
This is one book to which I looked forward immensely, having enjoyed The Other Boleyn Girl, The Queen’s Fool and The Virgin’s Lover very much, but I’m afraid that this novel was a bit of a disappointment by comparison. The premise was wonderful and I relished the thought of immersing myself in the world of the Cunning Woman in the time of Henry VIII, but what I got was something only partially rooted in reality, venturing more into the realms of pure fantasy rather than the historical fiction I’d expected. The life of a Wise Woman would have been interesting enough without all the fantastical additions tagged on here and there. I also felt that although the story progressed, there seemed to be no specific destination, and then, when I came to the last few pages, the end came crashing upon me all at once and left me unsatisfied as I wasn’t sure what point was being made.

It didn’t help that Alys wasn’t such an engaging character as the historical figures described in Gregory’s other novels, nor was she particularly likeable with all her manipulation and fickleness. Unfortunately, she wasn’t unpleasant enough to make her more interesting to me – if she’d particularly delighted in being twisted and cruel, rather than agonising over her actions, it would have made for a sizzling read.

All this is not to say that it wasn’t enjoyable – it was well-written, the persecution and paranoia of the age was atmospheric and evocative, and the more zealously passionate passages were a delight to read, if uncomfortable at times. I wouldn’t say it’s quite up to the standard of Gregory’s other work, but it’s still worth a look.

The Virgin’s Lover by Philippa Gregory Friday, Feb 13 2009 

Title: The Virgin’s Lover
Author: Philippa Gregory
ISBN: 0007147317
Rating: 3/5

Synopsis:
Elizabeth I has acceded to the throne of England, a position she has waited and schemed for all her life. She is surrounded by advisers, all convinced that a young woman cannot form political judgements. Elizabeth feels that she can rely on just one man: her oldest friend, Robert Dudley. It is soon plain that he is more than merely a friend. In a house in the countryside waits a very different woman, Amy Robsart – Robert’s wife. She has no taste for life at court and longs for the day when her husband will return home. She has loved him since she was a girl, but now they are adults she hardly sees him. Meanwhile, the pressure grows for Elizabeth to marry, for it is unthinkable that a queen should rule on her own. Elizabeth‘s preference is clear, but he is unavailable. But what if the unthinkable were to happen!

Review:
Unlike the previous historical novels by Gregory that I’ve read, The Virgin’s Lover isn’t written in the first person, making this story feel slightly less personal than either The Other Boleyn Girl or The Queen’s Fool, however, it enables the reader to look into the minds of more than one character at any given time and know exactly what plots are being hatched.

It paints a more vulnerable picture of Elizabeth I and she is shown as a woman with loves, hopes and fears like any other, but a woman in a position that will not allow her to be like any other – she can’t just be a Queen, she must rule like a King, with a decisive manner and firm hand. However, the portrayal is not always sympathetic; her selfish, demanding side is given free reign and she often manipulative and impulsive, as well as malleable; in shirt, she’s a flawed human being.

The ambition often associated with Elizabeth, one of the most powerful women in history, is matched by that of her lover, Robert Dudley, and his ruthlessness in working to raise his position so that he can make a play for the throne.

The Virgin’s Lover shows the cutthroat world of Tudor politics alongside one of the most famous royal romances England has ever known and throws the reader into a dizzying whirlwind of love and treachery in Gregory’s own imitable style.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory Wednesday, Jan 21 2009 

Title: The Other Boleyn Girl
Author: Philippa Gregory
ISBN: 0006514006
Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:
Mary Boleyn catches the eye of Henry VIII when she comes to court as a girl of fourteen. Dazzled by the golden prince, Mary’s joy is cut short when she discovers that she is a pawn in the dynastic plots of her family. When the capricious king’s interest wanes, Mary is ordered to pass on her knowledge of how to please him to her friend and rival: her sister Anne.

Anne soon becomes irresistible to Henry, and Mary can do nothing but watch her sister’s rise. Anne stops at nothing to achieve her own ambition. From now on, Mary will be no more than the other Boleyn girl. But beyond the court is a man who dares to challenge the power of her family to offer Mary a life of freedom and passion.If only she has the courage to break away – before the Boleyn enemies turn on the Boleyn girls…

Review:
With The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory offers a tantalising glimpse at the life of one of history’s forgotten women – Mary Boleyn, younger sister of Anne who would go on to become Queen of England. The history of this story is interesting enough, but the richness of description and depth of character development mean that this is more than merely interesting to read – its compulsive!

I found myself able to sympathise with all three of the Boleyn siblings, in particular George, who has to deny his own sexuality and performs above and beyond the call of duty to further advance his beloved sister (although just how far he is willing to go would seem too far by any normal standard).

Mary’s predicament – of being both very young and very married – when presented to the King by her own family as a potential lover, is horrifying to say the least. That a family could be so coldly calculating in their ambition as to force their own daughters into such a precarious position is difficult to believe, and yet history itself tells us it is so – the Boleyns and the Howards were determined to see their fortunes rise by whatever means possible.

It makes for a tale that is both chilling and heart-warming in turn, set against the lavish background of the Tudor court that is so colourful and bright that the reader is lost in the madness of corruption and power plays. If Gregory’s other works are anything like this one, then I will heartily recommend picking them all up as soon as possible.