Monday, July 10, 2017

Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory; narrated by Biaca Amato (2016)


So Philippa Gregory draws water from the wells of the Tudors once again.  For her,  springs are literarily plentiful, but they definitely aren't as nourishing every time we drink.

I read lots of mediocre reviews of  this book prior to starting in. I'm listening to it - Bianca Amato is a superb narrator, so no shade thrown her way - and at the beginning I was really enjoying.  But about a fourth of the way through, I realized what all the "meh-ness" was about.  I only kept listening for as long as I did - I even renewed it - because Amato is a charming and adept narrator.  She was able to bring this pile of shit to life, like Frankenstein's monster, and for that she should be commended.

The Margaret Tudor of a Wikipedia is a kickass warrior woman, a typical passionate Tudor.  She was married three times.  She was a teen-aged bride for her first marriage (just 13!) and a teen mother who lost multiple children.  She was a stranger in a strange land, forced to live among the traditional enemies of her people.  Her first husband, James, handed the keys to the kingdom over to her upon his death; she lost them and then later took them back.  The woman was a bad ass.  Queen Elizabeth I and her granddaughter Mary, Queen of Scots surely looked at her from a distance and though "That's who I want to be like."  

Reading about her exploits made me want to read a book about her.  Just not this one.

Gregory's Margaret Tudor is so disjointed that it's like we are reading about three or four different characters.  That's problematic here, because the book is (in Gregorian fashion) in first person.  With interesting characters - Mary Boleyn, for example, that first person viewpoint is juicy and interesting and unique.  Margaret Tudor's view point could have been the same, but Gregory turns her into this "three faces of Eve" type of character, - sometimes complaining, sometimes strong-willed, sometimes petulant and snobby, and all the time annoying. Gregory captures her teen snottiness - she's a mean girl, that's for sure - but it never seems to actually go anywhere. This makes her sound far more interesting than she actually is portrayed (or should have been portrayed).  Actually, she's little more than a ghost of a character,  barely there.  Gregory never quite convinces us of Margaret's motivations for any of the actions she takes.  That's what fiction is supposed to do, particularly historical fiction - you get to make up stuff about characters from history, fill in gaps using your imagination.  Gregory takes those gaps, and fills them with marshmallow fluff.  Nothing substantial or even interesting.

This book is takes place in Scotland, but you'd never really know that.  It really takes place in Gregory-land, that fictional Tudor universe that the monstrous Henry VIII and his terrible relatives loom over.  Change Margaret's name to one of the other Tudor women that Gregory has written about, and you have almost the same story and inner monologue.  Philippa Gregory really, really hates Henry VIII.  He's the mouldwarp, we get it.  But Margaret's story in this book often seems to exist totally to tell Henry's story again, not her own.  for a bad ass woman, she never really leaves the pages of the book to grab us by the balls.

Note:  I thought maybe switching from listening to reading this book would make it more palatable.  Or at least make it go by more quickly.  It did not.


Three Sisters, Three QueensThree Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm going to give this two stars because Bianca Amato is a superb narrator; she took this very, very problematic book and shook out every last entertaining bit she could. She gets five stars; she's both amazing and a trooper.

Gregory again returns to the Tudor well, and while sometimes the water she draws nourishes us, this time the bucket is almost empty.

The Margaret Tudor of a real life history is a kickass warrior woman, a typical passionate Tudor. She was married three times. She was a teen-aged bride for her first marriage (just 13!) and a teen mother who lost multiple children. She was a stranger in a strange land, forced to live among the traditional enemies of her people. Her first husband, James, handed the keys to the kingdom over to her upon his death; she lost them and then later took them back. The woman was a bad ass. Queen Elizabeth I and her granddaughter Mary, Queen of Scots surely looked at her from a distance and though "That's who I want to be like."

Reading about her exploits made me want to read a book about her. Just not this one.

There are too many things I didn't like about this book, but Gregory's characterization of Margaret Tudor was the main one. She's a ghost of a character, barely visible in a literary way. It's never clear why Margaret takes the actions she does; Gregory never helps us learn who Margaret is internally. That's what fiction is supposed to do, particularly historical fiction - you get to make up stuff about characters from history, fill in gaps using your imagination. Gregory takes those gaps, and fills them with marshmallow fluff. Nothing substantial or even interesting.

If this is in the only Philippa Gregory book you've ever read, don't give up. She's usually a strong writer who takes historical characters and makes something rich and strange out of them. Just not this time, which is a shame.


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