Queen’s Gambit

Queen's GambitQueen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Setting: England, London, Greenwich Palace, Whitehall Palace
Time: 1543-1549

Main characters: Henry VIII, Katherine Parr, Thomas Seymour, Dot Fownten (Dorothy Fountain)- chamberer to Katherine Parr.

First paragraph, Chapter I: “There has been a late snowfall and the covered turrets of Whitehall Palace disappear against a tapioca sky. The courtyard is ankle deep in slush and, in spite of the sawdust that has been strewn in a makeshift path across the cobbles, Katherine can feel the wet chill soaking through her shoes, and the damp edges of her skirts flick bitterly at her ankles. She shivers, hugging her thick cloak tightly about her as the groom helps Meg dismount.”

Favorite lines: “The laughter stops, leaving the room momentarily silent. There is an uncomfortable truth beneath the humor–even the innocent can fall. Meg sits still as a stone with a hand over her mouth. Sister Anne hides her face behind her fan, but her eyes betray her thoughts. If her sister falls, her family will tumble with her. Even Stanhope, who has whinnied laudest of them all, is shut up, though she loathes her brother-in-law and would gladly see him humiliated. Only Elizabeth laughs blithely. Is she too young to understand, or is she as callous as some say?” p. 181

“The women drop into deep curtsies, eyes glued to the floor. He heaves himself into the room and stands in his ermine and his armor of intricately embellished robes, the quilting and gilding and embroidery, and the embarrassingly large codpiece peeking out from the folds of his gown like some monstrous pet.” p. 275

I thought this was a very impressive debut novel. The author’s eye for detail, and her use of only the present tense throughout the book puts you right there in the room. I found it distracting at first, but as I got used to it I liked it. It’s almost like watching a play or reading a script. She deftly conveys the tension of living at court, husband to an unpredictable and dangerous man, the undercurrent of religious conflict and uncertainty, the intrigues of the Howard and Seymour families and the Privy Council, and the parallel story of Dot which gives something of an upstairs/downstairs look at the lives of the nobility and the servants. I read two-thirds of the book before discovering there was an audiobook version (performed by Georgina Sutton) which I have finished – nevertheless, I also plan to finish reading the book so I can continue to savor it!

Description: The court of Henry VIII is rife with intrigue, rivalries and romance – and none are better placed to understand this than the women at its heart. Katherine Parr, widowed for the second time aged thirty-one, is obliged to return to court but, suspicious of the aging king 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. So with her charismatic lover dispatched to the continent, Katherine must accept the hand of the ailing egotistical monarch and become Henry’s sixth wife – and yet she has still not quite given up on love

About the author: Elizabeth Fremantle holds a first in English and an MA in creative Writing from Birkbeck. As a Fashion Editor she has contributed to various publications including Vogue, Elle, Vanity Fair and The Erotic Review and has had her fiction published in The Mechanic’s Institute Review. She presently works as a reader for Literary Scouts, Anne Louise Fisher Associates, whilst working on a series of novels based around the Tudor court, the first of which is QUEEN’S GAMBIT.