rating: 5 of 5 stars
It feels like every time I turn around, I find another historical fiction novel with an annoyingly precocious heroine, who anachronistically insists on having some sort of recognizable-to-modern-readers version of a career, on being "more" than a wife and mother. Medieval feminists? I'm so sure. Contrary to popular opinion, the millennia preceding feminism were much more complicated than: Start your period, get married, make babies.
Thankfully, this masterful book takes no such patronizing views of the past. I read most of Antonia Fraser's The Six Wives of Henry VIII as a young teenager (made it all the way to Katherine Howard), so I've long been interested in this time period. I have to admit I didn't expect much from this novel when I began, because I distrust anything with fake gilt on the cover.
Gregory does a fantastic job evoking the attitudes and mores of the Tudor court. I loved the main character/narrator, she was a woman I could really root for. And so it felt almost like a slap when she mentioned in passing: Having the poor around is very economical, like keeping a pig (paraphrase). WHAT? That's not something the heroines of lesser historical fiction would ever say - they're all too busy preaching 20th-century ideas of equality to the piggish men around them! Gregory, though, is really trying to reflect Tudor England as it was, not as we wish it had been. For that, she won my eternal love.
This book is long (660 pages in the paperback edition). It's going to take you a while to finish. But if you like learning about different cultures and times, and you like a great story, you really ought to read this book!
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