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Review: The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

 

The Other Queen

by Philippa Gregory

 

I am a pretty big fan of Philippa Gregory’s historical fiction. (I’m never able to spell her name correctly, though. Always, I write Phillipa and have to go back and correct it.) Loved The Other Boleyn GirlThe Constant Princess was really good, too. The Virigin’s Lover and The Queen’s Fool were pretty fun. So I was looking forward to The Other Queen with my heart a-flutter.

 

It is the story of Mary, Queen of Scots, during her captivity in England. Her two ‘guardians’ are George and Elizabeth Talbot (today Elizabeth is better known as Bess of Hardwick.)  Their attitudes toward her could not be more different: George thinks it is a great honor to host the prisoner Queen, while Bess thinks it a bother and a huge waste of their money. Their conflicts about the prisoner only worsen with time, as George Talbot finds himself falling for the stunningly beautiful Queen of Scotland.

 

One of the most interesting conflicts in the book was the class differences between Bess and her husband, and how they informed their decision-making. Bess had come up from the merchant class, strategically marrying “up” with each husband (George Talbot was her fourth) and understood the value of money very well. She kept meticulous records of her assets and counted every penny. George grew up as a noble and never had to worry about money; he would just hold out his hand and cash would appear. He believes that the nobility are inherently better than “normal” people and can’t stand the idea of William Cecil having more power than him in Elizabeth’s court. Bess identifies with Cecil, and indeed acts as one his spies, because they both came from an ignoble background but have striven through cleverness and force of will to create a better life for themselves, rather than having titles handed to them by virtue of being born. 

 

Ultimately, though, I found the book extremely disappointing because the characters are so flat and one-dimensional. Bess Talbot is a shrew who counts her money and complains about expense. She is thoroughly unpleasant, and it’s little wonder her husband would be driven from her arms. Mary, Queen of Scots, is the most arrogant person you’d ever meet. Here are some excerpts from the first few pages of her narrative (the story is told by its three main characters, switching the point-of-view in alternating chapters):

They must be mad if they think they can treat me as an ordinary woman. I am no ordinary woman. I am half divine. I have a place of my own, a unique place, between the angels and nobles…

I am a queen three times over because I was born Queen of Scotland, daughter to King James V of Scotland, I was married to the Dauphin of France and inherited the French crown with him, and I am, in my own right, the only true and legitimate heir to the throne of England…

I deserve the highest place in the world…

I will wear nothing but my own beautiful clothes. I tell them that I will go in rags rather than wear anything but a queen’s wardrobe…

I am a queen; different rules apply for queens…

As a queen my person must be inviolate, my body is always holy, my presence is sacred. 

 

Imagine Mary going on like this for 300 pages, and you can see how tedious it would be. It’s really unfortunate that the two female characters are so wooden and flat; this could have been a fascinating relationship to explore. Instead they just internally bitch and whine for chapter after chapter.

Husband George is no better. When he isn’t bitching about Cecil’s England he wails about his love for Mary and how much he adores her with her goddess-like beauty. He comes off as a bubble-headed fool.


I mean, the book ought to be excited. There’s the subtle tension between prisoner and guardians, there’s intrigue in the courts, and action in Mary’s multiple escape attempts. But it’s plodding and boring.

 

Gregory really didn’t seem to put the effort into this book that have gone into her past novels. It kinda makes me wish she’d move on from the Tudor eraso that she can (hopefully) re-kindle her enthusiasm. But at the same time, I enjoy her Tudor novels, so I’m hoping this was just a bad egg and that a better novel will follow.

 

 

            To read more about The Other Queen,but it or add it to your wishlist, click here.

Tags: **1/2, 16th century, 2008, bess of hardwick, elizabeth i, england, fiction, historical fiction, mary queen of scots, philippa gregory, r2009, renaissance, romance, royalty, tudors
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