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Henry's last Queen
Elizabeth Feemantle's title is indeed apt. To be be one of Henry VIII's queens and survive takes is similar to playing high stakes poker when your opponent has all of the trump cards.
Katherine Paar is well-educated, religious, and unlucky in love. As the novel opens, her much older second husband is dying. Her brother and sister are at Henry,s court and upon her husband's death she has no choice but to join them. Having just rid himself of his fifth queen, Henry is looking for a replacement and settles on Katherine even though she is at the end of her child bearing days.
Told in limited 3rd person, we follow the luckless Katherine as Henry's 6th wife. The stakes are high. She has many enemies and as Henry grows more sickly, he seems to regret his split with the Roman Catholic Church while Katherine not only has accepted the new faith, she espouses its teaching.
Fremantle does a good job of giving necessary background and helping readers understand the dangers Katherine faces. In order to do so, she fleshes out the characters of Dr. Robert Huike, the King's physician and Dorothy (Dot ) Fownton, a maid. Fremantle invents thoughts, conversations and feelings based on her considerable research to flesh out her characters and help readers better understand the dangers of life for those high born who lived at the whims of their ruler. She also includes a useful timeline and brief sketch of the important historical figures of the time who appear in the novel.
For those familiar with the history of the period as well as those whose knowledge comes primarily through films of the period, this book is well worth their time.
The last queen of Henry VIII, Katherine Parr, is such a relative unknown that we can read of her daily life, of her musings, her fears, her friendships, without that jarring note of thinking the author may be wrong about that. Elizabeth Fremantle has created a full, three dimensional figure and taken us with her on her terrifying ride as wife of Henry VIII. I knew that she would survive, but the author brought so much suspense to the telling that I began to fear that this time it would not end well for Katherine. The narration is believable and takes the reader into Katherine Parr's world in such a way that we actually feel we have visited there. I agree that until we have more Hilary Mantel to read, this author will more than deliver. I look forward to hearing more from her in the future.