Title: The Queen’s Rival: In the Court of Henry VIII
Author: Diane Haeger
Release Date: March 1, 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5
Elizabeth “Bessie” Blount is just fourteen years old when she takes her mother’s place as a maid of honor to Queen Katherine of Aragon. She is dazzled by the court of King Henry VIII, though her lack of knowledge of the ways of court intrigue hold her back at times. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Bess catches the eye of the king, and it becomes increasingly difficult for her to resist his advances.
Those familiar with the story of Henry VIII likely recognize the name Bessie Blount, as she has a place in history as the first woman to bear the king a son. While Henry VIII did acknowledge the boy, naming him Henry Fitzroy, he chose to marry Anne Boleyn instead of his beloved mistress. Haeger dives into Blount’s life, romanticizing her story and giving a voice to a woman who has often been marginalized by history.
Bess herself is an innocent, agreeable girl, and though she becomes wiser in the ways of court life as the pages progress, she is generally quite naïve throughout the entire book. She wants to believe the best of the people around her, which is a nice quality. Haeger does a solid job fleshing out Bess, giving her a likeable personality. Readers will be able to sympathize with Bess as she finds herself torn between her love for the king and her loyalty to Queen Katherine.
While it’s clear that Haeger researched Bessie Blount’s life in order to write The Queen’s Rival, the history isn’t completely reliable. The author changes dates here and there to make the story flow better. While that’s a regular occurrence in historical fiction, I prefer it when the author makes clear in an Author’s or Historical Note what has been changed. That makes it much easier to separate fact from fiction.
The Queen’s Rival is an easy read, if a bit thin on plot. It read as more of a romance than historical fiction, as there wasn’t much focus on the events of the time outside Bess’s relationship with the king. If you’re looking for a simple read, this is a good pick. However, if you like your historical fiction on the meatier side, with side plots, and are less interested in the romance aspects (as I am), I’d look elsewhere, perhaps at Kate Emerson’s Secrets of the Tudor Court series.