Thursday, April 9, 2015

Review: The King's Curse

The King's Curse is Philippa Gregory's latest novel and the last in The Cousins' War series. And, if you can believe it, it is also the first book of hers I've ever read. I'm really interested in Tudor history but I just never found the time to pick up one of her novels before last fall.

Here's the synopsis:
Regarded as yet another threat to the volatile King Henry VII’s claim to the throne, Margaret Pole, cousin to Elizabeth of York (known as the White Princess) and daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, is married off to a steady and kind Lancaster supporter—Sir Richard Pole. For his loyalty, Sir Richard is entrusted with the governorship of Wales, but Margaret’s contented daily life is changed forever with the arrival of Arthur, the young Prince of Wales, and his beautiful bride, Katherine of Aragon. Margaret soon becomes a trusted advisor and friend to the honeymooning couple, hiding her own royal connections in service to the Tudors.
After the sudden death of Prince Arthur, Katherine leaves for London a widow, and fulfills her deathbed promise to her husband by marrying his brother, Henry VIII. Margaret’s world is turned upside down by the surprising summons to court, where she becomes the chief lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine. But this charmed life of the wealthiest and “holiest” woman in England lasts only until the rise of Anne Boleyn, and the dramatic deterioration of the Tudor court. Margaret has to choose whether her allegiance is to the increasingly tyrannical king, or to her beloved queen; to the religion she loves or the theology which serves the new masters. Caught between the old world and the new, Margaret Pole has to find her own way as she carries the knowledge of an old curse on all the Tudors. 
This is a looong book, around 600 pages, which is both good and bad. It's good because Margaret's entire story could be told in detail. However, there were some parts where there wasn't anything significant happening and the story really dragged. I found myself flipping past those pages, wanting to get to the next interesting event.

I was really shocked about the ending. I shouldn't have been had I known or researched the particulars of this time period. I understand why it had to end like that but it was abrupt (and sort of weird) especially when you consider that The King's Curse is the final book in The Cousins' War series. I suppose I just expected things to either be wrapped up more than they were or for it to continue on until King Henry's reign was over.

Quick observation: I was super happy to have the family tree for this book. I also appreciated that Gregory continually updated it after members of the family died, were married, or had children.

I'm sure at some point I'll pick up another Gregory novel. Like I said, I enjoy the history of Tudor England. However...I'm unfortunately aware of some of the criticism surrounding her novels and her research. I went back and forth a bazillion times on whether I should include this in my review or not because I don't want to unnecessarily prejudice someone else, especially when I don't have specific references, but it's something that's bugged me and kept me from reading Gregory until now. I have no problem with some creative license when it comes to historical fiction because, well, it's in the name of the genre, isn't it? Historical fiction. But I still expect truth to be under entertaining dialogue and way the story is told. It bothers me when I can't be sure what I'm reading actually happened. Does anyone else feel this way about her novels? Or can provide some excellent interview or evidence that I shouldn't be so hard on her?

Long, rambling review short, I don't know if The King's Curse was the right Philippa Gregory novel for me to start with. I didn't find Margaret's story particularly riveting and I was more interested in other characters' stories. I think the best course of action for me is to find myself some excellent research books on Tudor England, arm myself with the actual facts, and then dive back into the historical fiction, particularly Gregory's. I think I may enjoy the embellishments more if I have all of the background information. If you've been reading The Cousins' War from the start, I'd say give this one a read. I think you'll appreciate seeing how Gregory ends the series.

*An advanced copy of this novel was provided by the publisher, Simon and Schuster Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

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