Monday, November 28, 2016

The King's Curse by Philippa Gregory (2014)

Philippa Gregory sort of tells the same story over and over again.  This is definitely her mold, and at least at this point, she is far from breaking it.  Telling the Tudor story over and over through different eyes.  In  this case, the eyes of Margaret Pole, who Gregory (rightfully) argues was in the thick of things her whole life, but hasn't really had her story told before.  Of course, historical fiction is conjecture, and while Gregory's conjecture can sometimes fall flat, in The King's Curse it  (mostly) rings true and is rather breathtakingly dramatic.  I say "mostly" because the end is well known (if you know your Tudors):  Margaret Pole gets her head chopped off at age 67, an old woman unjustly executed by a mad tyrant.

Was Henry VIII a brilliant political king, or a mad tyrant?  Or both?  Gregory skates into the mad tyrant arena in all her books, and then sits firmly down, unmovable.  In a Gregory book, Henry VIII isn't some moony 47 year old going through a mid life crisis; he's an insane monster without a conscience who will do anything to keep his throne, including kill a defenseless old lady.  How defenseless that old lady actually was is an argument that Gregory takes on as well; in a large part of this book, Margaret Pole is both in the light and in the shadows, saying one thing publicly but saying and encouraging treason in privately.

Hilary Mantel writes much of this same story in a more literary style; I think when Gregory began writing, her style felt more literary as well.  Okay,  literary lite - but she wasn't a writer of bodice rippers or potboilers either.  Her best books still have this quality, and while The King's Curse isn't among her best, it still has some beautifully written sections.  I was never bored, and often on the edge of my seat.

The King's Curse (The Cousins' War, #6)The King's Curse by Philippa Gregory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think if Philippa Gregory had a time machine, one thing she'd definitely want to do is hop in and zoom back to 1509 or thereabouts, and smack Henry VIII a good one upside the head. She wholeheartedly despises this man, and has spent eight novels letting us know that in no simple terms. In some books by other authors, Henry VIII gets a pastel tone; in straight-up histories, he can come across as dry and matter of fact, or politically cunning. He can even be construed as a romantic; and sometime's he is a moody, moony, lovesick 40-something going through the most politically influential mid-life crisis of all time. Philippa Gregory's Henry VIII is always the brilliantly scarlet, blood-red, monstrous, murderous, frightening tyrannical mouldwarp, set again and again through the eyes of his various helpless victims. In this book, it is the eyes of his cousin Margaret Pole who, as Gregory writes, was always in the thick of these Tudor things, but also basically ignored by historians. Via the pen of Gregory, she is far from basic, but a complicated and complex woman who was always a hair's breath away from treason and execution, tightrope walking those delicate times, until... but no spoilers here!

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