Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

Queen's GambitQueen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle
Published by Simon & Schuster
Review copy provided by the publisher

From the publisher:

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.

So, I was reading another historical fiction novel, this one in a series about the War of the Roses by that popular historical fiction author a lot of people (including me) love and a lot of people love to hate, but for some reason I couldn’t focus on it. I was craving historical fiction, though, so I moved on to Queen’s Gambit, and it was such a great choice. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about Katherine, Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife, so it was both educational and compelling to read about this woman I previously knew very little about.

What I liked so much about this book is that while the story had drama and intrigue, the real stars of the show here were the well-crafted characters and the solid writing. Is there such a thing as literary historical fiction? Because that’s exactly what Queen’s Gambit is – historical fiction with a firm basis in excellent writing that holds the reader’s attention and provokes the mind.

That being said, the history in this novel was fascinating to me! Katherine was young when she married the king – not super young, as she’d already been married and widowed twice before, but young enough to still be considered beautiful and bear children and all of that – and Henry was … well, not young, and certainly not beautiful. It’s shocking how the status and power that come with the title of Queen could be so alluring and valuable for Katherine to see past the King’s unattractiveness and old age. I loved learning about how she used this power to her advantage, and even though she behaves herself and does the right things almost all of the time, she was still looking out for herself and her family’s best interests the whole time.

If you are a lover of historical fiction, I cannot more highly recommend Queen’s Gambit. This is a novel featuring a woman in history about whom not very much is written, and it’s well worth your time to read. Highly recommended!

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2 thoughts on “Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

  1. Hopefully there is such a phrase because literary historical fiction suits this book perfectly! I have to agree about the characters, so well written and the thought processes Fremantle used were great. Glad you liked it, and it’s kind of ironic who you were reading beforehand – on the UK edition she’s the one used for the ‘if you liked…’ recommendation.

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