Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

Title: Queen’s Gambit
Author: Elizabeth Fremantle

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 16th Century / Henry VIII / Tudors / Court Intrigue / Marriage)
Publisher/Publication Date: Simon & Schuster (8/6/2013)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: The final years of Katherine Parr, last wife of Henry VIII.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I adore the cover -- such a unique design for a historical novel. Love the red.

First line: The notary smells of dust and ink.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you want a lesser known Tudor wife.

Why did I get this book?: Katherine Parr is one of my wife's favorite of Henry's wives, and I'm intrigued by her.

Review: This novel of Katherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII, was a surprising and brisk look at her marriages and romantic life, as well as the religious tumult in the court.

Katherine, widowed for a second time, has inherited a small fortune, and is known for her smart with and loving care of her recently deceased husband. When Mary, Henry VIII's daughter, summons her to the palace, Katherine becomes the focus of Henry VIII's 'romantic' attentions. Henry, stung still from the disaster of Catherine Howard, is less interested in the nubile maidens being flung his way, and instead wants Katherine. (I must admit to cringing at all those scenes -- sick, obese Henry, who dresses up as a jester so his courtiers can pretend to be surprised when he unmasks himself...!)

Katherine is no dummy nor some untried girl blinded by power and fame. She suffered cruelly when held hostage during a Catholic rebellion, and both she and her stepdaughter struggle with the dark memories and scars of that time. Reluctant to marry the King, her desire to avoid such a step is only increased when she falls for dashing courtier Thomas Seymour.

Novels of royal intrigue aren't my passion but Fremantle's heroine, canny but not ambitious, was a woman I could get behind.  Interested in theology and philosophy as well as the 'science' of healing herbs, Katherine is savvy and cool (unless Thomas Seymour is involved).  The world during this time was facing more than drama over Henry's wives, too: religious tumult and rebellion color Katherine's days and Fremantle balances well the emotional drama with political intrigue, so that neither overwhelm the story.

However, Katherine's stepdaughter, Meg, and her devoted servant, Dot, were the stars of the story for me.  Dot is smart and loyal, but illiterate; she hungers to learn to read and is aware of just how much is denied her due to her inability to read.  (I would love a novel from her viewpoint!) 

I had a few small quibbles with this book, mostly stylistic.  It's written in third person omniscient, present tense, which I found distracting.  The key emotional moments of the story felt flat to me, rushed through rather than built up, so much so that I wondered if I had missed something: Katherine's falling in love with Thomas Seymour, or the shock of seeing Elizabeth, Henry VIII's daughter, with a man in her bed.  I didn't entirely 'buy' Katherine and Thomas Seymour's love affair.  It rather felt like their glances suddenly turned into hot sexytimes in the space of a few pages.

Still, despite my complaints, a solid debut, and for those who are curious about one of the less written about wives of Henry VIII, get this one.  Despite the page length, this reads very quickly -- I never would have said it was over 400 pages! -- and Fremantle includes an annotated list of who's who as well as a timeline to help the less Tudor-educated reader (me) keep everything and everyone straight.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Queen's Gambit to TWO lucky readers!

To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only, ends 8/30.


  1. I love stories about the wives of Henry VIII :) If you haven't yet read Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VII, it's a biography I'd highly recommend.

    1. I haven't read it yet -- will add it to my TBR!

  2. This is exciting! Poor Katherine Parr is always so neglected it seems when it comes to Henry's love interests, but she's one of my favorites, too. In recent years I've become extremely leery of Tudor Period historical fiction because it has gotten so very popular. It feels as if there's a new novel out every week and as the number grows, quality decreases. I mean, these are real people and the genre is *historical* fiction, so I don't think it's too much to ask that the author tries to keep things somewhat accurate, lol. This sounds like a pleasant surprise, though, and one I am definitely interested in picking up. Thank you for the great review and giveaway!!

    1. I feel you on that! I will warn you that I've seen a few reviews that commented on Fremantle's supposition of history/events, so if you're a stickler, there might be things that bother you. Still, I liked how Fremantle radicalized Katherine (without making her feel outlandish or anachronistic) so do give it a try. Parr is rapidly becoming my favorite of Henry's wives!

  3. This sounds like something I need to read, since I think Katherine Parr is the only wife I haven't read about. But I am not sure what's going on with the narration -- omniscient present tense just sounds strange to me as well.

    1. It does help make things feel less, I don't know, 'tell'-y, I suppose -- being in the midst of the action -- but it also removes some of that, oh, not quite hindsight, but a little foreshadowing, I guess, that rounded sense of the action. Still, I found myself very much 'in' the story and it raced despite the length.

  4. Sounds intriguing! And I'm in love with the cover.

  5. Thanks for the recommendation! I love all things Tudor . . . don't get me started on how much I loved Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.

  6. Sounds great, Audra! Great review! Have a good weekend!

  7. Nice review, Audra. I really enjoyed this one. I found the narrative technique a little strange at first, but once I was used to it I rather liked how the story was told. I do agree that the Katherine/Seymour romance just sort of sprang out of nowhere (one page it seemed she hated him and the next she was infatuated with him), but overall it seemed that their romance is portrayed in a manner consistent with historical fact. Katherine was a fascinating woman, and it's nice to see her as the star of book rather than Anne Boleyn or Katherine of Aragon.

    1. Melissa -- I agree -- am loving Parr's rising star. And that's the challenge with biographical fiction -- sometimes I'm not satisfied with what really happened! ;)

  8. I've been really curious to read this one, despite some of the negative things I've heard, because you just don't hear too much from this point of view. Looking forward to picking it up at some point!

    1. And it's not bad, just jarring (the present tense) and one does grow used to it. It's worth taking a look at for the view of this exciting Queen.

  9. I've been wicked curious about this book. The POV sounds a little wacko but I think I'd still like to check this one out :)

  10. Do, do -- would love to know what you think of it!

  11. I love your historical fiction reviews and think your review format is pretty much the most helpful ever, so I've just nominated you for the versatile blogger award! If you choose to accept then you need to do the following:
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    4. Drop them a comment to tip them off after you have linked them in the post.
    5. Post 7 interesting things about yourself.

  12. I liked this one a lot. The writing style was quite unique, and I agree about the page count, it did fly by!


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