Book Reviews: Lots of Historic Fiction

I love reading good historic fiction and I have a soft spot in my heart for stories from Tudor England. The problem is that there is so much historic fiction out there but most of it is mediocre or worse so you have to wade through a lot to find the books worth reading. I am not even sure I have found the good ones yet since most of the currently reigning queens of historic fiction (Philippa Gregory, Diane Haeger, Alison Weir, etc.) haven’t really clicked with me when I read their books. I have liked some of what they have written (as you will see below) but I haven’t found anything that I really loved in quite some time. I am more than happy to accept suggestions so if there are any historic fiction fans out there that know of some exceptional examples of historic fiction, please feel free to leave a comment with a suggestion or two.

The Constant PrincessThe Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I haven’t been the biggest Philippa Gregory fan in the past, I actually really enjoyed The Constant Princess. I liked the fact that the author focused on Katherine of Aragon’s early life rather than skipping ahead to the point where Anne Boleyn comes on the scene. The characters of both Katherine and Henry are skillfully written here to the point where you can see the seeds of their future behaviors and motivations that will shape the end of their story even at the beginning of their relationship. I also enjoyed the Moorish influence that the author brought into the story through Katherine’s childhood in Spain. I think it did a lot to put Katherine’s history and character into context for me.

While I am not sure if I am believe, like the author does, that Katherine’s first marriage was consummated (which would have invalidated her marriage to Henry), I thought the premise is completely credible and was handled in a completely plausible way without ever becoming sensational or over the top.

If you are interested in historic fiction concerning Tudor England, then I would recommend The Constant Princess whole heartedly.

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The Secret Bride (In The Court of Henry VIII, #1)The Secret Bride by Diane Haeger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While it was supposed to be a dramatic love story, it never really got there for me. The author tried to tap into the famous “first-we-fought-and-disliked-each-other-but-now-we-are-passionately-in-love” dynamic (or what my husband refers to as the “they-pulled-your-pigtails-because-they-secretly-like-you” phenomenon). Where it works in specific circumstances, Pride and Prejudice for example, it only works because the author successfully depicts what brought the couple from point A to point B. What changed?

The author of this book doesn’t really bother with all that. It is enough to say that Princess Mary falls in love with someone who she originally thought was a self-serving, obnoxious, slime without saying what did she saw in him to overcome that initial impression. I will admit that later on, after they were in love (and risking life and limb if her brother, King Henry, found out) that Charles Brandon did show some better qualities and if those reveals had happened before the love affair began, I could understand the relationship more. But overall, it’s as if the author thought the fact that Charles was handsome and witty would be enough to overcome Mary’s dislike of him enough for her to risk her reputation, future and life to be with him… which is a little flimsy for me.

On the good side of things, the time period where Mary was in France, forced to marry an older, sickly king, was actually well written. The character of King Louis was surprisingly well written and interesting. And the beginning which gave the reader an opportunity to view a young, King Henry passionately in love with Katherine and getting his legs as King was also well done.

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Mademoiselle BoleynMademoiselle Boleyn by Robin Maxwell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For the most part, I found Mademoiselle Boleyn to be one of the better written pieces of historic fiction that I have read that deals with the life and history of Anne Boleyn. In some ways, it reminds me of Philippa Gregory’s The Constant Princess. Both M. Boleyn and The Constant Princess deal with the formative years of Henry VIII’s wives (Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn) long before their historic clash over a place as Henry’s wife and queen. In both cases, you could see hints of personality traits, relationships, skills, beliefs and attitudes developing and see how those attributes would someday shape the history of England and the world. There were a couple of scenes that I found to be over the top and sensationally lurid… (A lesbian orgy? Really? Was that really necessary)… but when I wasn’t rolling my eyes at the ridiculous parts, I really enjoyed reading this book.

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Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane GreyInnocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey by Alison Weir

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A decent read but nothing to really write home about. I have always loved this particular period in history and had a fond spot for Lady Jane but few of the characters in this version were at all sympathetic.

I don’t usually choose movies over books but in terms of enjoyment and getting any sense of caring about the people in the story, I would recommend the film, Lady Jane (starring Cary Elwes and the film debut of Helena Bonham Carter).

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About Ciarrai

Hi. My name is Kerry but here online I tend to go by the Gaelic version of my name, Ciarrai. I am a woman in my mid-30's who lives on Long Island, NY, with my husband, Rob, several guitars, a Nikon D40, more yarn, beads and books than I care to admit to and a cat who has a million nicknames and quite a few theme songs. I have a B.A. in Psychology and have recently returned to college to pursue a teaching degree so that I can eventually get a job as a High School English teacher. In addition to my major obsessions (Reading, Beading, Knitting, Music and Photography), I also enjoy playing Board Games, going to Renaissance Faires, Museums and Broadway Musicals.
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