Title: The Other Queen
Author: Philippa Gregory
Release Date: September 16, 2008
Genre: Historical Fiction
Review: ** (out of 5)
From the dust jacket:
Biographers often neglect the captive years of Mary, Queen of Scots, who trusted Queen Elizabeth’s promise of sanctuary when she fled from rebels in Scotland and then found herself imprisoned as the “guest” of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury and his indomitable wife, Bess of Hardwick
The newly married couple welcome the doomed queen into their home, certain that their serving as her hosts and jailers will bring them an advantage in the cutthroat world of the Elizabethan court. To their horror, they find that the task will bankrupt them, and as their home becomes the epicenter of intrigue and rebellion against Elizabeth, their loyalty to each other and to their sovereign comes into question. If Mary succeeds in seducing the earl into her own web of treachery and treason, or if the great spymaster William Cecil links them to the growing conspiracy to free Mary from her illegal imprisonment, they will all face the headsman…
I’m a huge fan of Philippa Gregory’s historical fiction novels on the Tudors. Every time one comes out, I eagerly read it, usually in one sitting, and revel in her writing talent. I really do adore her books; they make the history come alive and she has a penchant for detail, making everything so interesting. So, then, I asked myself, how in the world was The Other Queen so boring, so tedious?
I think the main problem is the characters. The voice of the book is divided between three people, and it jumps so often that the reader doesn’t really have a chance to sympathize with any of the characters. By the end of the book, I didn’t really care what happened to any of them; I just wanted the book to be over.
And the characters are so whiny! Mary, Queen of Scots, complains the entire book about being a Queen and what that means and how she’s so special. Seriously, there are pages of the book where she just rants about herself. It’s unreal. Bess of Hardwick (probably the most sympathetic character in the book) complains about how much money Mary is costing her. And George, Earl of Shrewsbury, complains about how he loves Mary. It really was just unbelievable.
On top of that, the story is somewhat boring. Gregory chooses to focus on Mary’s time of imprisonment in England and all the plots she’s involved in. Generally, the most interesting periods of her life were before that, when she was married to the Dauphin of France and then Queen of Scotland, and the Babington plot, after which she was sentenced to death.
Of course, I do have to say some good things as well. As other Gregory novels, the book seems meticulously researched and her attention to detail is commendable. She really does paint a portrait of the Elizabethan world; however, the book is not set at court, and I think it suffers for that. Country houses are much less interesting than the intrigue at Queen Elizabeth’s court. So, in some senses, the blandness of the story isn’t Gregory’s fault; she was trying to tell the story from a certain point of view that, by its nature, just wasn’t that interesting.
I also have to ask: has anyone else noticed Gregory’s apparent prejudice against Queen Elizabeth? In every book, she is portrayed as a weak, sissy queen or as a whorish girl. I’m not saying she was perfect, I’m just saying that Gregory’s bias is more than apparent, and it’s starting to get old.
In sum, skip this book. Gregory hasn’t lost me as a fan yet, and I’ll still be in line for her next book, but I’m just going to pretend like I don’t know that this book actually exists.