Discovering the Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle startled me. Since she is one of my favourite authors of Renaissance fiction, I was puzzled by the surprising hype. So I bought the book. It was not what I expected; it was much better — a genuine pleasure to read.
Fremantle’s Katherine Parr
Queen Katherine Parr, the last of King Henry VIII’s wives —and the one I had previously thought the dullest — blossoms under Fremantle’s pen into a thoughtful, charismatic and clever woman beset by both friends and enemies.
As the scenes move from the privacy of Katherine’s home to the king’s court through her luxurious private apartments and onward, Fremantle’s vivid writing brings each setting to life. As Queen Katherine’s tension rises so does her perception of her surroundings.
By the time King Henry marries Katherine he has become an unstable tyrant. It is dangerous to live in his vicinity, doubly dangerous to marry him, and an invitation to execution to contradict him. Katherine’s enemies, the power seekers who vie for power as soon as the failing king breathes his last, pepper Henry with malicious hints about Katherine’s present and past misdeeds
Discovering Queen Katherine’s Character
As the tale unfolds, primarily through Queen Katherine’s eyes, her character, in all its strengths and flaws, its intelligence and its blind spots, its essential kindness, comes into focus. The people in her life are as vivid as old friends from the moment they enter the scene. Her brother, Will Parr, enters boasting, Thomas Seymour bows and flirts, and so it goes.
Those who know Queen Katherine’s story know its end. Nonetheless, Fremantle’s choice of point of view and her insight into her characters brings freshness and depth of emotion that is deeply moving.
The book is about love in its many forms, a theme as timeless and as varied as life itself. I recommend this and the next two novels in this trilogy unreservedly. I’m looking forward to her latest, The Honey and the Sting, due to be released in August.
A Surprising Discovery
P.S. Along the way, I realized that this Queen’s Gambit was an entirely different book from that by Walter Tevis, popularized in the recent Netflix series. I also learned that titles cannot be copyrighted, a useful fact for authors. It leaves me wondering if my novel, The Importance of Pawns will benefit from this hype.