The Queen’s Rivals by Brandy Purdy

Title: The Queen’s Rivals
Author: Brandy Purdy

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 16th Century / Tudors / Court Intrigue / Family / Marriage / Scandal / Royals)
Publisher/Publication Date: Kensington (6/25/2013)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Rating: Liked to loved.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: Mary Grey, youngest Grey sister, narrates the tragic lives of her sisters and herself, rivals to the throne.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Eh, whatever, doesn't hit me strongly in any way.

I'm reminded of...: Philippa Gregory

First line: What a splendid study in contradictions I am!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you like Philippa Gregory-esque novels of royals, court intrigue, and scandal.

Why did I get this book?: Have always been curious about Jane Grey and Purdy's novels.

Review: This was an insanely fun historical novel, a salacious and tawdry look at some of the lesser known Tudor relatives, in the vein of Phillipa Gregory. Following the three Grey Sisters -- Jane (The Nine Days' Queen), Katherine, and Mary -- Purdy's story is sympathetic toward the women who find themselves pawns by blood, marriage, or choice.

Mary narrates the story of her family and the tragic ends her sisters faced. Almost like a fairy tale, each sister embodies a vice or virtue: Jane is brilliant, Kate is beautiful, and Mary is beastly. (Mary is described as a dwarf with a hunchback.) The Grey sisters are cousins of the Tudors (their mother, Frances, was the daughter of Mary Tudor, the younger sister of Henry VIII), in the line of succession for the English throne.

Jane is brilliant, well educated, vying to be a Protestant philosopher rather than a nobleman's wife. Kate is desperate to be in love, to be loved, to have run of her own household. Mary, while scolded as beastly, is a moderating middle between her sisters, watchful and cautious. She's a wonderful narrator who convinced me from the start to agree with her on the nature of her sisters, her family, and their fates.

Frances is a parent straight out of a fairy tale: ruthless, cold, abusive, quick to use her riding crop on anyone who disobeys her while her husband, the girls' father, is a cowardly glutton with unusual affectations. Their parties are known for the excess and debauchery, yet the Grey sisters grow up strong, passionate, loving, and moral, united in their affections for each other although each is driven by a single, varying motivation.

Her writing style is as much a character as the sisters: long, dramatic, punctuated with wild flourishes, it took me the first chapter to get used to it but in the end I loved it.

I've already grown accustomed to living without them, to thinking every time I let myself start to feel again, to let fondness and care take root within my heart, those first tender shoots that herald the flowering of love in any of its many forms are also the first dip of the quill in the silver inkwell to begin the first grandiose curlicue of the word good-bye to be write slow or fast across the pulsing rosy parchment of my heart. (p6)

This isn't racy novel, per se, not the way Gregory can be, but Purdy throws in many salacious innuendos and suggestions which ratchets this novel from tame to wild. If you've a particular opinion of the Grey family, I'm not sure if Purdy's novel with affirm or offend.

Being unfamiliar with Jane's story (shamefully, I realized upon starting I had conflated Jane Seymour and Jane Grey, and had to get an impromptu lecture from my wife on who Jane Grey was!) and without a horse in the race, so to speak, I found myself completely taken with Purdy's articulation of Jane, her family, and the people around her. I found her hard to like and very sympathetic in equal part, and it made this wildly boisterous novel feel human and emotional. It's a wonderfully zippy read, too, perfect for the summer, and an escapist drama that kept me distracted and happy.

*** *** ***

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Comments

  1. This book sounds like a lot of fun, but I've won too many books recently and I'm not going to try for this one! I've got Bring Up the Bodies on audio to listen to soon, so that will have to be my English history for the summer.

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  2. Salacious and tawdry? Sign me up!

    In all seriousness, I was a bit worried about this one. I wish more books were written about the Grey sisters, so I signed on for the tour. It's a relief to see this is going to be a better novel than I had feared.

    It's so easy to confuse people in historical fiction! When I first started reading it, I mixed up Henry VIII's wives so often (all those C/Katherines! Two Annes!) it's embarrassing. I hope your wife wasn't too harsh with you ;)

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