Book Review: “Queen’s Gambit: A Novel of Katherine Parr” by Elizabeth Fremantle

18950719To be married to a king may seem like a dream, but reality can be cruel. Take the wives of Henry VIII. After saying ” I do,” each wife had to deal with complex challenges after saying “I do.” We all know the poem; divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived, but does that define these queens? After the death of her second husband, Katherine Parr must choose between Henry VIII and Thomas Seymour, the man who has captured her heart. She must navigate love, court intrigues, and the treacherous religious landscape of England in the 1540s to survive. Katherine’s life as Queen of England and how close she came to a disastrous fall from grace are explored in Elizabeth Fremantle’s first novel, “Queen’s Gambit: A Novel of Katherine Parr.”

I have heard about this particular novel for years, and I have wanted to read it for a long time. Katherine Parr is my favorite wife of King Henry VIII, but sadly there are not many novels about her. When it was announced that this novel would be turned into a new movie called “Firebrand,” I knew now was the perfect time to read this book.

“Queen’s Gambit” begins with Katherine Parr at the deathbed of her second husband, Lord Latymer. Their relationship was full of love, but it was also stained with tragedy as Katherine was left alone to fend off the Pilgrimage of Grace, which scarred both Katherine and her stepdaughter Meg for years to come. With the death of Lord Latymer, Katherine returns to court with Meg and her beloved maid Dot, where she falls hard to the debonair Thomas Seymour. Their love can never be as another man has his eyes on the desirable widow, and no one ever disobeys King Henry VIII. Katherine Parr marries the king and becomes his sixth wife, a queen of England.

As queen, Katherine’s life might seem like a dream, but dealing with an ailing husband and trying to promote her religious views without losing her head is a balancing act. I thoroughly enjoyed how Fremantle portrayed Katherine and her time as queen and eventually the wife of Thomas Seymour. Her relationships with Henry VIII, Thomas Seymour, Anne Askew, Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward are complicated but well fleshed out. I also enjoyed the additional characters that Fremantle included in Katherine’s tale, especially the loyal to a fault Dot and Huicke, the king’s physician whose friendship would become invaluable to Katherine.

This was my first time reading a book by Elizabeth Fremantle, and I cannot wait to read another story. Fremantle does a superb job of telling Katherine’s story in an engaging and thoughtful manner. It was so interesting that I did not want this novel to end.

Katherine Parr was not just the final wife who survived King Henry VIII’s last years. She was a wife, a loving stepmother, a widow, a woman in love, a caring friend, a writer, and a reformer. Her life was full of risks, tragedies, and love. If you love Tudor historical fiction novels, you will adore “Queen’s Gambit: A Novel of Katherine Parr” by Elizabeth Fremantle.

Book Review: “Lamentation” by C.J. Sansom

27263493._SY475_The year is 1546 and England is once again in turmoil. Rumors swirl that the once-mighty King Henry VIII is gravely ill and his councilors, both Protestants and Catholics, are vying for power to see who will help Henry’s young son, Edward when he becomes king. With such distinct factions, those are not Protestant or Catholic, like the Anabaptists, are deemed heretics and they are hunted down. Executions over faith, like the death of Anne Askew, run rampant across London. Those who own books that were deemed “controversial” were under a shroud of suspicion. When Matthew Shardlake’s main supporter, Queen Catherine Parr’s book Lamentation of a Sinner, goes missing, Shardlake must navigate the religious divide carefully to retrieve the missing manuscript before it is discovered. Can Shardlake and his friends save the queen from the heresy hunt in time? The stakes could never be higher in C.J. Sansom’s sixth Shardlake novel, “Lamentation”.

If you have been following my adventures with this series, you know it quickly is becoming one of my favorites. Of course, I wanted to read this novel, but when I found out that it involved Catherine Parr and one of her books, I immediately had to jump back into Shardlake’s world.

Sansom begins his sixth novel with Shardlake witnessing the execution of Anne Askew. The introduction alone made me a bit squeamish, because of its intensity. The way he described this event cemented how real the consequences were for those who were on the wrong side of the religious divide. Shortly after this horrific event, Shardlake is giving a new mission by his patroness, Catherine Parr. Someone has stolen the manuscript of a very personal book that she wrote, Lamentation of a Sinner, and if should fall into the wrong hands, the queen may be executed like Anne Askew. Since Shardlake is fond of the queen, he cannot allow this to happen, so he embarks on a secretive mission to retrieve the manuscript, which leads him on a collision course with some of the kingdom’s most illustrious and powerful men, including his arch-nemesis, Sir Richard Rich.

To top it all off, Shardlake has another case, because the man can never take things easy and tackle one case at a time. This time, it is a sibling squabble over an inheritance and a painting. However, this is not just a simple case of sibling rivalry as the brother and sister share a dark secret that will radically change the course of this case and their lives forever.

I feel like the previous Shardlake novels have had an element of danger, but this book amplified the danger level immensely for our intrepid lawyer and his friends. I think the secret-keeping that Matthew had to do and the relationship between him, Guy, Barak, and a new assistant Nicholas Overton, was brilliant and heightened the drama. The last one hundred pages left me speechless. It was an incredible conclusion to a heart-racing novel.

I don’t know how Sansom keeps writing hit after hit, but he does. This adventure was mesmerizing in its complexity. There were so many times I thought I had the crime solved and Sansom threw another twist. I did not want this one to end because I know that there is only one book left and I am not ready to say goodbye to these characters that I have grown to love so much. If you are a fan of the Shardlake series, you must read “Lamentation” by C.J. Sansom, as soon as possible.