Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: August 6, 2013
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Widowed for the second time at age thirty-one Katherine Parr falls deeply for the dashing courtier Thomas Seymour and hopes at last to marry for love. However, obliged to return to court, she attracts the attentions of the ailing, egotistical, and dangerously powerful Henry VIII, who dispatches his love rival, Seymour, to the Continent. No one is in a position to refuse a royal proposal so, haunted by the fates of his previous wives—two executions, two annulments, one death in childbirth—Katherine must wed Henry and become his sixth queen. Katherine has to employ all her instincts to navigate the treachery of the court, drawing a tight circle of women around her, including her stepdaughter, Meg, traumatized by events from their past that are shrouded in secrecy, and their loyal servant Dot, who knows and sees more than she understands. With the Catholic faction on the rise once more, reformers being burned for heresy, and those close to the king vying for position, Katherine’s survival seems unlikely. Yet as she treads the razor’s edge of court intrigue, she never quite gives up on love."We all know the story of Henry VIII and his six wives, but not many authors focus on Henry's last wife, Katherine Parr. Katherine Parr finds herself newly widowed, in her thirties, with no interest in being queen, that is until Henry sets his sight on her. She is actually in love with Thomas Seymour, a well-known courtier, but her affair is cut short due to Henry's interest in her. Before she knows it, she finds herself as Henry's queen and caring for him while also trying to navigate through his many explosive moods. If only she could conceive an heir, it would secure her position as we all know what happens to Henry's queens if he is unhappy. Plus, there are people at court who want to take her down and Katherine simply hopes to get out of this alive. Elizabeth Fremantle's debut, Queen's Gambit, is an interesting glimpse into the life of Katherine Parr and Henry's last years as king.
I really liked living in Katherine's world; she is intelligent, caring and romantic as demonstrated through her love affair with Thomas Seymour. She is a bit of a reluctant queen as she knows she can't turn down Henry and ultimately, her heart lies with Thomas. Despite her true feelings, Katherine accomplishes a lot while queen; she isn't just a figurehead or Henry's pawn. She has an interest in Protestant reform, writing, medicine, as well as Henry's daughters, Mary and Elizabeth. But not everyone at court likes Katherine...this is the Tudor Court after all, so it was definitely an entertaining ride.
Fremantle also focuses on Katherine's maid, Dot, who is also quite interesting as she has to get used to life at court, which is unlike anything she has experienced before. Her subplot was well done and definitely suspenseful as Dot finds herself in a few precarious situations in Queen's Gambit.
Fremantle portrays the aging and ill Henry VIII very well. It's just as I pictured him. I found myself cringing at many points in Queen's Gambit due to the fact that Katherine would simply have to be in the same room with him. He's unpredictable, uncontrollable, smelly, and an obese ogre in the novel and I truly felt for Katherine. She definitely made the best of a "bad" situation and once Thomas returned to court, sparks ignited between them once again, even if it was through a simple look. I couldn't help but wonder if they would end up together.
Queen's Gambit is a delight, especially for fans of the Tudors and those who want to learn a bit more about Katherine Parr. Fremantle's debut is a solid one and I plan on checking out what she writes in the future. Thanks to Simon and Schuster, I am hosting a giveaway for one copy of Queen's Gambit to US readers. Please refer to my giveaway rules and the deadline is November 4th. Good luck!