The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory

The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory

Reviewed by L.D.Y.

Trade, 504 pages, 2004

Rating: 8/10

Reason for Reading: I loved loved loved The Other Boleyn Girl.

Synopsis: In mid-sixteenth century England, two princesses are battling for the royal throne, along with the religious fate of the country. In her early teens, Hannah Green is sent to the royal court as a holy fool after it is discovered she has the ability to see the future. Concealing her Jewish heritage, which is welcome to neither the Protestants or the Catholics, Hannah is locked in a hopeless internal battle with her ‘cursed’ religion and her growing love for a lord at the court, despite being betrothed to another man. As times turn deadly because of the turmoil in the royal court, Hannah is quickly discovering that there is no safe religion or even opinion. Hannah might be at the greatest risk of all, because both contenders to the throne want a prediction from her saying that she will successfully rule as the Queen of England.

Why you should read this book: As with The Other Boleyn Girl, the story is fast-paced and offers the readers an ‘inside view,’ this time with an entirely fictional character. The biggest draw for fans of The Other Boleyn Girl is that some of the characters from that novel carry over into The Queen’s Fool, so if you didn’t get your fill from the first book you can at least get a second dose from the children of those characters. There’s almost always lots of action going on, because Gregory’s extensive research takes into account all of the activities going on outside of the immediate view of the narrator, such as the swaying tides of public opinion about who should be Queen of England. Gregory is brilliant at blending history and fiction into a believable, fleshed-out story that manages to hold a sense of intrigue.

Why you should avoid this book: If you didn’t already know the historical outcome of the story, it quickly becomes fairly obvious from Hannah’s predictions. For a girl that’s smart in so many other ways, it seems rather ridiculous that all of the characters around her, as well as the reader, can decipher the riddles in her visions, while the suddenly clueless Hannah begs for hints as to their possible meanings. There are points in the last third of the book where the pace will suddenly slow down, dropping a large portion of the suspense Gregory seemed to be building up, so that pieces of the story feel like a chore to read rather than a breathless race to the conclusion.

Opening paragraph:

The girl, giggling and overexcited, was running in the sunlit garden, running away from her stepfather, but not so fast that he could not catch her. Her stepmother, seated in an arbor with Rosamund roses in bud all around her, caught sight of the fourteen-year-old girl and the handsome man chasing around the broad tree trunks on the smooth turf and smiled, determined to see only the best in both of them: the girl she was bringing up and the man she had adored for years.

Fabulous quotes:

‘She is a Papist in a Protestant country,’ he said. ‘You could not have chosen a place where your faith and practices will be more scrutinized. It is me who is named for Daniel, not you. Why should you go into the very den of lions? And what are you to do for Lady Mary?’
He stepped closer so we could whisper.
‘I am to be her companion, be her fool.’ I paused and decided to tell him the truth. ‘I am to spy for Lord Robert and his father.’
His head was so close to mine that I could feel the warmth of his cheek against my forehead as he leaned closer to speak into my ear.
‘Spy on Lady Mary?’
‘And you agreed?’
I hesitated. ‘They know that Father and I are Jews,’ I said.

‘Hannah, I have nothing else to hope for but him. I hope that he comes to me, despite all the wicked slander against him, despite the danger to us both. Despite the threats that they will kill him the moment he sets foot in this kingdom. I hope to God that he has the courage to come to me and make me his wife and keep me safe. For as God is my witness, I cannot rule this kingdom without him.’
‘You said you would be a virgin queen,’ I reminded her. ‘You said you would live as a nun for your people and have no husband but them and no children but them.’
She turned away from the window, from the view of the cold river and the iron sky. ‘I said it,’ she concurred. ‘But I did not know then what it would be like. I did not know then that being a queen would bring me even more pain than being a princess. I did not know that to be a virgin queen, as I am, means to be forever in danger, forever haunted by the fear of the future, and forever alone. And worse than everything else: forever knowing that nothing I do will last.’

Also recommended: Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier; Testament by Nino Ricci; Fingersmith by Sarah Waters.

Also by this author: The Boleyn Inheritance; The Virgin’s Lover; The Other Boleyn Girl; Wideacre; The Favoured Child; Meridon; The Wise Woman; Mrs. Hartley and the Growth Centre; Fallen Skies; A Respectable Trade; Perfectly Correct; The Little House; Earthly Joys; Virgin Earth; Zelda’s Cut; Bread and Chocolate.

Fun tidbit: Gregory actually failed history in her A-levels, but after eventually going to university, she discovered that she loved history because of the way it explained why things are they way they are.

© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007

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