Book Review: The Queen’s Fool

The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory

Dates Read: 16/03/2021-02/04/2021

My Rating: 4 of 5 stars

OK, hands up from the outset. I’m an absolute sucker for anything Tudor (or Plantagenet for that matter). Blame the history teaching at Northfield Junior School back in the 70s. Somehow they made it real and interesting and alive and I’ve now accepted that I’m always going to be seduced by any book set in this era.

I’ve read quite a few (as you can imagine) different authors writing historical fiction, but for some years now, Philippa Gregory has been my favourite. I really enjoy her prose style and that her protagonists tend to be the women, often not the central players but always portayed as influential to the powerful men of the era – as mothers, sisters, wives or even, as in this instance, the imagined Fool.

Actually, two of the powerful characters in the Queen’s Fool are women – Mary and Elizabeth Tudor, both queens and the last two monarchs of the dynasty. The Queen of the title is Mary, and we see her rise to her peak and then fall as she is overshadowed by Elizabeth. The Fool has the confidence and ear of both of them and provides a good medium for us to hear the voice of both sides.

The full horror of the Spanish Inquisition is brought to England and to life because of the Fool’s Jewish heritage – we learn that she’s fled from Spain to England as her mother has been burned at stake as a heritic very early in the novel, and consequently the smell and smuts of fire accompany her throughout. The horror of the consequences of not conforming to state approved norms actually resonates pretty well in 2021, as the Fool’s world is driven to not publicly question or defy those norms. Hope exists in those who question the narratives – from flat earth to geocentricity to witchcraft and medicine.

I’m no expert but Ms Gregory’s work always feels well researched and while, undoubtedly embellished by imagination, true to real events. I almost always enjoy her work and this is no different. It’s another lengthy read (why do I seem to have picked so many of them this year?) but compelling, at least to me. So it’ll be a while before I read another of her works, I’ve only got a limited number unread now so I tend to ration them and give her chance to catch up with writing new material!

Book Review: Six Tudor Queens

Six Tudor Queens – Writing a New Story by Alison Weir

Dates Read: 16/03/2021-16/03/2021

My Rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a very quick read over a cuppa – more of a precis of the lives of Henry’s wives than an insight into the author’s research methods and writing process which is what I expected. Still, an entertaining few minutes and definitely worth a read if you’re not especially familiar with our Tudor history. Plus it’s a free ebook so excellent value for money!

Book Review: The Midnight Library

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Dates Read: 10/03/2021-15/03/2021

My Rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s taken me a little while to get round to writing this review – firstly because I usually give it a few days anyway so that I have time to process what I’ve read and my thoughts, but mostly because I’ve just been too busy reading! To be honest, I don’t think I’d have read this book had it not been for it being a book club choice – I probably shouldn’t but I do tend to shy away from novels that have mass populist appeal – think it stems from a very distateful experience having tried to read Dan Brown following all the hype! However, I’m glad in retrospect that I have read it as I did get some enjoyment, but probably not on the scale of some of the reviews I’ve read. It’s also a quick, easy read so pretty welcome following a very long Jo Nesbo!

NB – SPOILER in next paragraph!!

The premise is good – but not especially groundbreaking. I mean, who hasn’t had one too many shandies and pondered how different their life may have been had one decision or action been different? But the idea of being able to try out those alternate realities is interesting – however it seemed evident to me from pretty early on that the outcome would always be that the life you’re living is always the best and right one for you. The mark of someone’s character isn’t about how they fall over, but how they get back up again.

OK, it’s safe, no more spoilers

As a glass half full kind of person, I guess I was kind of irritated by Nora and her ‘poor me’ attitude. We are all masters of our own destinies and must take control of that. The only person we are responsible for is ourselves, and we need neither take resposibility for the actions of others, nor (generally) apportion blame for how those actions impact on us. Obviously, I’m not talking about cases of abuse, but I can hardly keep blaming a bunch of other kids at school for not talking to me when, at the time, I was painfully shy and barely responded if they did, and certainly never willingly took up an opportunity to do fun, social stuff! Yes, I’ve changed a fair bit since then!

So that’s why Nora exasperated me – offered so many opportunities but never had the courage to grasp them, then whines about how terrible her life is. Who wouldn’t be frustrated with a protaganist like that? Life is full of risk and situations that make you uncomfortable but goodness me, don’t the best times and outcomes happen when you choose courage and face into your fears?

Saying that, it took me, probably, 40 years to truly learn this and start to live my own life, by saying yes, taking action and really confronting those doubts. We only get one chance at this life, and it’s not a very long one, so I am utterly determined to accept what I can’t change, have no regrets, always look on the positives, forgive easily (with one notable exception) and move on quickly from disappointment. My husband says I’m a pretty rare breed for having this attitude. I don’t know about that, but perhaps The Midnight Libraray will help others on their own journey to a more positive mindset and that can only be a good thing.