Book Review: The Beaufort Bride by Judith Arnopp

Beaufort Bride novel

A beautiful tale woven by a talented writer with a clear passion for the late medieval and early renaissance period. I have always maintained that a good novel and history book is a like a trip back through time. Margaret Beaufort has become everyone’s go-to-bogeyman as of late. She is either the villain who should be pitied but still condemned or just condemned. Judith Arnopp decides to depart from this narrative and instead give us a woman who was much a victim of circumstance as a product of her times. Her faith, pride, loyalty to her house, and love of her son are what keep her going.

This is not to say that the novel takes the other route and turns her into a martyr. Far from it. She is a woman who is hardened by loss and grief but never loses sight of what matters. Her loyalty for her house remains, but she sheds her idealism in favor of survival, believing that something of the Lancaster pride can remain through her and her offspring.

The story of Margaret Beaufort has not been told enough. It has been popularized as a dark fairy tale -and to some extent it was- but more than a tale of tragedy, it is a tale of endurance and perseverance.

There were some parts where I thought that Margaret was portrayed a little too cold but given what she has lived through, I could see how she could have taken on those aspects.

An entertaining and refreshing read about a young heroine in a place and time that seems almost too surreal to us.

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Book Review: The Queen’s Mary by Sarah Gristwood

Mary Seaton historical fiction

Seldom are there books written from the point of view a minor historical character that manage to captivate my attention as this one did. It is engaging, from start to finish, and a great illustration of the period seen through the lens of one of Mary, Queen of Scots’ trusted ladies.

Sarah Gristwood is best known for her non-fiction, primarily her biographies focusing on the lives of European queens from the late medieval to the early modern period. This is no different, except that it is fiction and yet, it feels s if you are reading one of her biographies because she is very detailed when it comes to fashion, the type of garments that nobles, based on their status, bloodline, etc, would have used, and the foods they could afford, and other excess.

There is a part towards the end where it was harrowing to read, which I won’t spoil but those who already read this, probably know what I am talking about, and it is a testament to her talent about being able to put herself in her characters’ shoes, historical ones no doubt! And give them a voice that doesn’t feel out of place with the rest of the events.

Scotland in the sixteenth century was for lack of a better word, a mess. And this novel doesn’t shy away from showing the negative from every religious side, including its most prominent members who only cared about their self-interest.

We see the world through the lens of a little girl who learns from the get go that her life’s purpose is to serve the child-queen and protect her interests above all else. As she gets older, her faith in Her Grace is shaken. She goes from servant, to friend to confidant.
We watch the downfall of a woman whose future seemed bright, and who was determined to reclaim what she viewed was hers because of her blood. Unfortunately, the Scotland she left is not the same one she returned and the people are hungry for leadership, and the nobles will side with whoever keeps their family fortunes intact. Mary Stuart is cunning and ambitious, Mary Seaton sees that, and she is far more resilient than she is given credit to, but she can’t come to terms with the new political climate, one which is entirely hostile towards female kings and her faith.

My only criticism comes for the time jumps. The first one felt necessary but towards the end, many things felt unnecesarily rushed. But I would have liked more flashbacks. However, I can look past it because as I previously mentioned, the plot moved along nicely thanks to brilliant dialogue.
Through her eyes we also get to see her wins and losses, and her personal struggles as she is forced to decide between her family and her queen, her family and her faith, or between her desires and her sworn duty to stand by her queen’s side no matter what.
It is an emotional roller coaster and a book that every history buff will quickly binge on. I greatly enjoy it and if you are new to this period, this is a good novel to start that will get you interested in finding more about the lives of these extraordinary and tragic women.

Cleopatra Unconquered

Cleopatra Unconquered book cover

When I delve into historical fiction, I tend to be very picky but will push aside certain liberties as long as the authors are honest about it. When it comes with alternative history, I am even pickier so take my word for it when I say that this is a good book that every history buff and lover of ancient Egyptian history will enjoy!

Cleopatra Unconquered is a good book that expands on the question of what if Cleopatra’s forces had won against Octavian’s forces. It is an entertaining, well researched book with very well-rounded characterizations of the historical people involved here that doesn’t make them seem as if they are out of place, but rather people of their times -holding the same prejudices and core-beliefs as you would expect from people born into those societies.

Helen  R. Davis weaves as beautiful tale of love, hate, and deception to give us a convincing tale on how Cleopatra VII would have won against the armies of her rival, Octavian, and the consequences thereafter. This is the first book in a series that will explore more on how much history has changed, not just during the remainder of her reign, but after it.

Cleopatra comes out as a strong-willed queen, who is committed to remain in power and do what is best for her people, and as many pharaohs did back then, believes that she is being divinely guided by the gods, specifically Isis.

Fearless and unapologetic, Cleopatra VII is also ruthless and like other famous female regents and pharaohs before her, will go to great lengths to protect what is hers and show the world that she is not anyone’s puppet.

Book review: Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters by Wendy J. Dunn.

COA novel falling pomegranate

Falling Pomegranate Seeds: the Duty of Daughters is a fantastic novel written by Wendy J. Dunn, it is the first in her series on Katharine of Aragon. As a result, this focuses primarily on her formative years in Spain.  Without vilifying or whitewashing her, Wendy J. Dunn weaves an intricate tale of hope, passion, and self-growth as Katharine prepares for the epic journey that awaits her.

Katharine of Aragon was Henry VIII’s first wife, and before that, his brother’s wife, and the daughter of two of the most prestigious monarchs in Christendom. Born and raised to do her duty, she was also among the most learned women of her times. Wendy J. Dunn doesn’t brush past this fact; it is a key component of her book. The book opens up with Beatriz Galindo, known as “La Latina” for her scholarship, being questioned by the Queen of Castile about her youngest daughter’s education. Beatriz is delighted to be charged with such a task, and dedicates most of her time to Catalina, ensuring that she will grow up to be a learned queen.

It is refreshing to see a historical fiction devote so much time to Katharine’s formative year, and set the stage for the next books in her Katharine of Aragon series.

Her Katharine is how I picture she was in real life. She starts as an assertive and curious child who is determined to become Queen of England because she believes that is her destiny, and as the story progresses, even when we know how it is going to end, we are still rooting for her as she sets sail to her new home. The emotions run high near the end, it plays like a farewell scene but it is not. One chapter of her life has ended and another will begin and we are left eagerly waiting for that.

Wendy J. Dunn brings out the best and worst aspects of her character, something that is much needed in a figure that often gets put on a pedestal or easily disregarded as the ‘boring one.’ Katharine is mischievous, she plays, she is everything you would expect in a child, but she is also curious and intuitive with a mind of her own -which becomes more evident when she is in her teens- and like her mother, she is very proud and grounded in her beliefs that she’s unwilling to compromise when that compromise goes against her moral view of the world.

I recommend this book to all history buffs and those of you who like me, are very passionate about Tudor history.

Under these Restless Skies by Lissa Bryan

Under the restless skies

Under these Restless Skies takes places in Tudor England, specifically an England ruled by Henry VIII when he’s seeking a divorce from his first spouse, Katherine of Aragon to marry the alluring Anne Boleyn. I’m often very critical of historical fiction (and historical fantasy even more) because the characters tend to be one-dimensional and you have to suspend belief to really get into the story but with this book, not really because the characters were very close to their historical counterparts and the author really did her homework and was very accurate when it came to describing the rituals that men and women had to go through such as confinement, churching, coronation, and she included author’s notes at the end of her tale with a glossary and terminology.

Emma started a bit of a Mary Sue at first but after Anne’s glorious moment, she starts acting more human, exploring the darkest aspects of our species and becoming more human herself. As with every good book, you suffer from book withdrawal at the end or what I like to call book blues. There is a lot of good moments where the author describes the customs and beliefs of the period through dialogue and by doing this she keeps the story moving and interesting.
The only thing I disagreed were some instances regarding Anne Boleyn. I like Anne Boleyn for being an outspoken and intelligent woman, she was also flawed and she was known for her temperament. You could say some contemporary accounts were bias and she wasn’t entirely responsible for what her family did or said to Mary, or said about her mother -Anne’s predecessor and enemy, Katherine of Aragon- but she wasn’t entirely blameless either. Anne did not order her death -Katherine died of natural causes which were accelerated by her living conditions- but she did encourage her female relatives to be mean to Mary so she could accept her father’s new marriage and her condition as the king’s bastard. While I do not like some of Anne’s attitude, a great deal of it was brought about by the situation she was in. She was playing a highly political game and the stakes were *really* high. As she tells the original character (Emma) before her coronation, she must be recognizes as Henry’s true and only wife and one word, one rumor could be the difference between life and death. (Which is exactly what happened when Henry looked to replace her. She was tried for treason and executed. The evidence used against her was ridiculous. Even Chapuys who was one of her biggest critics, wrote he couldn’t believe that they were trying her on scant evidence and that it was amazing how anyone could believe any of it). It was a good portrayal nonetheless where Anne is seen as a strong yet also vulnerable woman through the eyes of the immortal Emma Sommers. It is hard to write about Henry VIII, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about the man as there are about Anne Boleyn, that often authors lend credibility to them. The author nailed down Henry VIII showing him at his best and his worst.
Finally, there is the fantasy part of the selkies or the sea creatures that the author wrote about. I said it before, but I will say it again. I felt like this was a good twist on Hans Christian Andersen’s the little mermaid. A fish out of water who comes face to face with a terrestrial and she falls in love with him, and is willing to let a piece of her be taken so the two can be together. But instead of a handsome prince, her one true love is Will Sommers, a man with a bad back but a heart of gold, and instead of love being one-sided, Will Sommers shows her that he loves her as well.

The author has a blog where she has written extensively about the Tudors, and dispels many myths about them, primarily Anne Boleyn whose figure continues (and probably will for many years to come) to be at the center of many heated debates.