Saturday, December 4, 2010

Good Read, But Not Recommended As A Starting Point In This Series

The Constant Princess (Tudor Court) by Philippa Gregory (Touchstone, 2005, 400pp.)

Katherine of Aragon: most fans of Gregory’s Tudor books know her as a supporting character from the author’s bestselling novel, The Other Boleyn Girl, the first of Henry VIII’s ill-fated wives, cast aside in favor of her vivacious young rival, Anne Boleyn. The Constant Princess is a prequel that chronicles the childhood and adolescence of Katherine--born Catalina of Spain--and her two marriages to two very different brothers: Arthur and Henry Tudor. Gregory recognizes the potential that Katherine the historical figure has to offer as a fictional character, and uses this novel to examine the inner strength of a queen usually overshadowed by her ambitious usurper. For a reader familiar with English history, this will be a satisfying, if flawed, read. Gregory’s method of storytelling in this novel is a bit peculiar: she alternates between third-person past tense and first-person present tense, so that readers get the full picture with Katherine’s voice acting as a running commentary on events. Not only is the switch between styles jarring, this reviewer can see no aspects of this method that betters the story in any way. Another factor that detracts from the novel’s quality is its dependence on the reader’s familiarity with English history, or, if not that, Gregory’s novel, The Other Boleyn Girl, published four years before this one. The last pages of the book describes Katherine’s successful campaign against the Scots in 1513, as well as the revelation of a long-desired pregnancy (disappointingly, it did not produce the much-needed male heir, but a daughter who would become known as Bloody Mary, scourge of the Protestant cause). The narrative then jumps ahead to 1529, where the reader finds Katherine, calm and collected, on trial by her husband, who seeks to annul their marriage in order to marry the younger, more fertile Anne, since the medieval Catholic church did not recognize divorce. Although this is a nice way to celebrate her remarkable strength of character and bring her character arc full circle, readers not familiar with historical events may find themselves confused by our heroine’s sudden change in fortunes. Therefore, this book is not recommended as a starting point for readers coming to the series for the first time.

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