Friday, October 16, 2015

The Taming of the Queen

            The post-Pilgrimage of Grace religious upheaval late in Henry VIII’s reign finds credence in another of Philippa Gregory’s prolific Tudor series. The protagonist in this story is Kateryn Parr, the sixth wife of England’s most notoriously wedded monarch. While most readers know her fate, the author puts a spin on the tangle of rival factions and also describes the reasoning behind the madness of the King of England.

Why would anyone knowingly marry a serial killer? In the most recent installment of Philippa Gregory’s Tudor Court series, The Taming of the Queen, the answer to that question becomes all too clear: because he is the KING! Kateryn Parr, the final Queen in the reign of Henry VIII, is the subject of this latest piece of historical fiction. Picking up shortly after the execution of Katherine Howard, King Henry’s fifth wife, this book introduces the world to the little known Queen Kateryn.  With most of the attention given to the more eccentric and flashy queens like Anne Boleyn and Katherine of Aragón, little has been published about Queen Kateryn until recently. I was pleasantly surprised to find that she is just as noteworthy as the more scandalous wives of King Henry.

As the story begins, thirty-year-old widow, Kateryn Parr, is in a secret affair with Thomas Seymour. After involuntarily catching the eye of the king, she is forced to end her secret affair and marry a man old enough to be her father…A man who has notoriously buried four wives - King Henry VIII. Kateryn is fully aware of the danger she faces. She is attentive to the fact that the previous queen lasted only sixteen months, and the one previous scarcely half a year. As much as her logical reservations tempt her to quickly turn tail and run, she knows that her fate would be much worse if she did. In her mind, either way, she is a dead woman walking.  She decides to accept the King’s proposal and marries him, much against her better judgement.
She takes some comfort in the fact that King Henry initially adores his new bride. She is kind and gentle with the infamous wife killer, even as he suffers from a chronic leg injury that skews his attitude and judgement in a most violent and sporadic way.  Kateryn slowly begins to trust him and makes great efforts to unite his extremely fragmented royal family. Her success leads her to be allowed more freedom. She uses this new found trust to create a free thinking study group at the heart of the court, and even rules as Regent in the absence of the King.

As trusted as she seems to be, are her efforts enough to keep her safe? As her influence as a religious reformer grows, suspicion of the Queen runs rampant amongst the anti-protestant movement that is sweeping the country. Kateryn dangerously stands out as an independent woman with a mind of her own, as evident in being the first woman to publish in English. Her exertions and sacrifices, however, are for naught as Henry’s perilous gaze turns on her.  Persuaded by the clergy and other power hungry rivals, Kateryn finds herself accused of heresy. The punishment for such a crime is death by fire, and her husband, the king, has signed the warrant…

(As those who regularly read the Lit Writ know, it can be safely assumed that Philippa Gregory is my favorite writer in this genre. So, in the spirit of full disclosure, I feel I must preface the following commentary by divulging that bit of info.)

After finishing the previous book in this series, a small part inside me was sad to say the very least. Like an addict, I searched frantically to find my next historical fiction fix. After reading several other authors, who were fantastic in their own right, I was still left feeling a little empty. Then, much to my joyous elation, I saw The Taming of the Queen on an upcoming release list and immediately put it on hold. While this is not my favorite book in the series, I am happy to report that I learned more from this work than from any of the others.

Kateryn Parr is a little known force in the long list Henry’s wives. She was well educated and strong willed. Considerably older than most of Henry’s brides, Kateryn was the perfect match for an aging and debilitated Henry. She managed to bring his royal children all under the same roof…a feat unsuccessfully attempted by others in the past. While Henry was easily swayed by his mates in religious matters, she was the first to have the royal authority to translate and publish religious works into the common tongue – an allowance that almost cost her her life. Ultimately, in a great disservice to her legacy, history would push her aside in favor of more “Hollywood- ready” queens like Anne Boleyn and Katherine of Aragon.  This, however, does nothing to diminish her spirit and achievements throughout her reign.

As I close yet another series by Philippa Gregory, I am sadden by the fact that it is over, while none the less excited that I was able to delve into such a little known Queen who pleasantly surprised me with her tenacity and bravery in the face of a monstrously evil force like King Henry VIII. I highly recommend not only this book, but the entire series to anyone interested in this time period. I give The Taming of the Queen 4 stars and look forward to devouring whatever dynasty Philippa Gregory decides to tackle next.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Crown

Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun, learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake. Defying the rule of enclosure, Joanna leaves the priory to stand at her cousin’s side. Arrested for interfering with the king’s justice, Joanna, along with her father, is sent to the Tower of London.

While Joanna is in the Tower, the ruthless Bishop of Winchester forces her to spy for him: to save her father’s life she must find an ancient relic—a crown so powerful, it may possess the ability to end the Reformation.

With Cromwell’s troops threatening to shutter her priory, bright and bold Joanna must decide who she can trust so that she may save herself, her family, and her sacred way of life. This provocative story set in Tudor England melds heart-stopping suspense with historical detail and brings to life the poignant dramas of women and men at a fascinating and critical moment in England’s past.

One day at the library, I was discussing with a well-read patron my need for a new historical fiction writer, as I had exhausted many of the works of my favorites. She suggested Nancy Bilyeau, an author whose name I had heard mentioned in various historical fiction circles. I searched within the libraries catalog and was pleasantly surprised we carried the very book the patron had stated was the one that got her hooked on the author. I immediately went to the stacks, pulled the book, and began to devour it on my lunch break, and might I say:  Who knew the lives of nuns and monks could be so exciting?
After reading, “The Crown”, Nancy Bilyeau’s first installment in the Joanna Stafford series, my assessment of the men and women of the cloth has gone from one of meek and mild-mannered devotees to that of cunning and intelligent sleuths doing all they can to protect their home, faith, and way of life. The story begins with Joanna Stafford, a young and naïve member of the fallen royal Stafford house recently turned novice Dominican nun, wandering unaccompanied through London’s Cheapside. King Henry VIII has announced that there is to be a traitor burned at the stake, and Joanna is desperately searching for its location to confirm her worst fear—that the intended burn victim was to be her beloved cousin Margaret.
Margaret, like many devout Catholics at the time, was angered and enraged by King Henry’s nonchalant casting off of the old ways in favor of the new religious separation from Rome. This separation was brought about by Henry’s anger over not being granted an official divorce by the Pope, allowing him to marry his Boleyn mistress. All who opposed him by standing up for their religious beliefs were labeled traitors and effectively dealt with as such. Margaret was no exception. Accused of leading an uprising, or rather not talking her husband out of a revolt, she is sentenced to death by burning. Catching wind of King Henry’s intentions for her cousin, Joanna sneaks out of Dartford Priory to try to convince those in charge that her cousin should be spared. That is when her trouble begins.
After attempting to be near her cousin in her finals moments of life, Joanna is accused of trying to help Margaret escape, and finds herself locked in the Tower of London. While held captive, she has a chance run in with treacherous and deceitful Bishop Gardiner, who bribes her to join his search for the infamously cursed Athelstan Crown. This sets Joanna off on a path of mystery and intrigue, leading her to not only question the church, but her own faith as well. With a new obstacle around every corner, Joanna finds herself in some not-so-nun-like situations, relying on her wit and instincts to pull her through, while all along attempting to preserve her commitment to not only her family, but the fold as well. With the amount of excitement and deceit that unfolds along her path, it is easy for the reader to forget they are reading about nuns, monks and priests.
As a self-proclaimed historical fiction junkie, I must say I am rather impressed with Nancy Bilyeau’s novel, “The Crown”. While it is not a easy to devour as a Philippa Gregory novel, (I am a little bias, as Ms. Gregory is my favorite author of all time) it is closely comparable and is chalked full of good, down and dirty Tudor suspense, stratagem, and huggermugger. I would highly suggest this as a good place to venture once you have exhausted the entire Gregory catalog. I give this book 4 stars overall and 5 stars for the mysterious plot line. I look forward to reading another of her works soon!

Monday, January 5, 2015

An Old Betrayal

On a spring morning in London, 1875, Charles Lenox agrees to take time away from his busy schedule as a Member of Parliament to meet an old protégé’s client at Charing Cross. But when their cryptic encounter seems to lead, days later, to the murder of an innocuous country squire, this fast favor draws Lenox inexorably back into his old profession.

Soon he realizes that, far from concluding the murderer’s business, this body is only the first step in a cruel plan, many years in the plotting. Where will he strike next? The answer, Lenox learns with slowly dawning horror, may be at the very heart of England’s monarchy.

Ranging from the slums of London to the city’s corridors of power, the newest Charles Lenox novel bears all of this series’ customary wit, charm, and trickery—a compulsive escape to a different time.
(From Goodreads)

            In the latest installment of the Lenox Detective series, Charles Finch evokes the time-tested feel of a “Sherlock Holmes” mystery with his novel “An Old Betrayal”.  The year is 1875, and the opening scene plants the reader in the chambers of the British Parliament.  Charles Lenox, a former, yet highly regarded detective, has left his investigative vocation for a less exhilarating position as junior Lord of the Treasury in the House of Commons. When he receives word that his protégé, Lord John Dallington, needs assistance with a pressing new case, Lenox jumps at the chance to delve back in to his once well-loved profession.  
            On the day that the duo is to meet with their new client, Dallington falls ill, leaving Lenox to take the meeting on his own. But when the meeting falls through due to enigmatic circumstances, Lenox is filled with more questions than he began with.  Little does he know that that initial cryptic failed-consultation will open up a Pandora’s Box of intrigue, scandal, and death that will take him to the doorstep of the Monarchy. A centuries old grudge transforms itself into a contemporary mystery for Lenox and Dallington, instilling horror and fear in the heart of the very Queen herself.
            I am always hesitant to read a piece of fiction that is a part of a series without out first reading all of the books up to that point. On the suggestion of a patron, I broke my own tenet, and picked up “An Old Betrayal”, the 7th book in the Charles Lenox mystery series, and proved that there are always exceptions to the rule. Although I plan to go back and read the first 6 books in the series, I was pleasantly surprised that “An Old Betrayal” is a fantastic and action-filled standalone that is reminiscent of writing style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Again, as with most extensive book series, character development is generally complete by book 2 or 3, but in the case of Lenox and Dallington, Charles Finch continues to reveal nuances and attributes that make even the reader new to the series feel as though they haven’t missed anything by starting part way through.

            As with any mystery, a well-defined, yet slowly revealed plot is essential to keeping the attention of the audience. In “An Old Betrayal”, Finch used humor, wit, and period-appropriate vernacular to introduce the plot to the reader in a subtle and colorful fashion, while simultaneously creating two sub-plots. At first, the sub-plots seem completely disconnected from the original crime, but upon further investigation, the connections between them are undeniable and shocking, allowing the reader to believe they have solved the mystery alongside Lenox and Dallington. Oh, but then comes the twist! As with any mystery worth its salt, Finch draws the reader into a solvable situation only to drop a bombshell that will completely catch them off guard. 

           Overall, I must say, I am impressed with the writing skill and attention to detail that Charles Finch demonstrates in this installment of the series. “An Old Betrayal” has given me a new found appreciation for mystery writing that I had all but given up on as a genre. While Hollywood and the rest of the world may be enamored by blood, guts, and sexual intrigue that tend to overshadow a lack of plot, Charles Finch gives the reader a good old fashion murder mystery jammed packed with style, flair, and finesse that has been missing in this genre for quite some time. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series. I give this book 4 stars!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

My Top Ten Books To Read . . . or Re-Read over the Holidays!

    Through all of the hustle and bustle of the Holiday season, the one thing that everyone craves is "Me Time". When the sliver of free time finally reveals itself in all of its glory, my favorite thing to do is use it up to the last drop reading a good book. Below I have compiled a list of my top ten all-time favorite reads. Many that made the list could be old friends of yours, too. Reading for the first time, or re-reading for the hundredth, any and all of these treasures could quite possibly be the best gift you give yourself this Holiday season. As always, these can be found at your local library. So, find a cozy spot, brew a tasty, piping hot pot of your favorite beverage, snuggle up under a warm blanket, and escape the craziness of the season with one of these fantastic gems! You won't be disappointed!

      10) The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy- by Douglas Adams

Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.
Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker's Guide ("A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have") and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox--the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod's girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.

 9) The Alchemist- by Paulo Coelho
Paulo Coelho's enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world. This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within. Lush, evocative, and deeply humane, the story of Santiago is an eternal testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts.

 8) Pride and Prejudice- by Jane Austen
When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited, while he struggles to remain indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever. In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life.

7) Great Expectations- by Charles Dickens
In what may be Dickens's best novel, humble, orphaned Pip is apprenticed to the dirty work of the forge but dares to dream of becoming a gentleman — and one day, under sudden and enigmatic circumstances, he finds himself in possession of "great expectations." In this gripping tale of crime and guilt, revenge and reward, the compelling characters include Magwitch, the fearful and fearsome convict; Estella, whose beauty is excelled only by her haughtiness; and the embittered Miss Havisham, an eccentric jilted bride

6) The Hobbit- by J.R.R. Tolkien
Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely traveling any farther than his pantry or cellar. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an adventure. They have launched a plot to raid the treasure hoard guarded by Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon. Bilbo reluctantly joins their quest, unaware that on his journey to the Lonely Mountain he will encounter both a magic ring and a frightening creature known as Gollum

5) The Complete Sherlock Holmes- by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
This book contains all the investigations and adventures of the world's most popular detective. Follow the illustrious career of this quintessential British hero from his university days to his final case. His efforts to uncover the truth take him all over the world and into conflict with all manner of devious criminals.

4) Hills Like White Elephants- by Ernest Hemmingway
A man and his girlfriend wait for a train to Madrid at station in rural Spain, the almost casual nature of their conversation evading the true emotional depth of what’s happening between the two of them. “Hills Like White Elephants” is considered to be among Ernest Hemingway’s best short fiction, showcasing the author’s powerful ability to strip writing down to its bare bones and allow the reader’s imagination to fill in the subtext.

3) The Bell Jar- by Sylvia Plath
This novel is Sylvia Plath's shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity. Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational—as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.

2) On the Road- by Jack Kerouac
On the Road chronicles Jack Kerouac's years traveling the North American continent with his friend Neal Cassady, "a side burned hero of the snowy West." As "Sal Paradise" and "Dean Moriarty," the two roam the country in a quest for self-knowledge and experience. Kerouac's love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz combine to make On the Road an inspirational work of lasting importance. Kerouac's classic novel of freedom and longing defined what it meant to be "Beat" and has inspired every generation since its initial publication.

1) Rappaccini’s Daughter- by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Part fairy tale, part Gothic horror story, "Rappaccini’s Daughter" is an inspired tale of creation and control. Giovanni Guasconti, a student at the University of Padua, is enchanted to discover a nearby garden of the most exquisite beauty. In it abides a young woman, perhaps the most beautiful Giovanni has ever seen; yet as he looks out from an upstairs window, he soon learns that the garden--and the matchless Beatrice--are not the work of Mother Nature but rather the result of a monstrous abomination of creativity.

(All Summaries were taken from GoodReads)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Big Help For Writers!!!

It’s that time of year where college students and high school students alike are scrambling to complete written assignments that are due before the winter break. Well, in light of this, I have compiled a listing of various invaluable resources, with short descriptions, that are intended to make this process a little less daunting. Who knows. . . You may even find that you LIKE to write! I honestly don’t know what I would have done without some of these tools. I hope you all find these helpful and insightful, and best of luck on the remainder of your semester! As always, if you find you are having trouble and can’t find answers elsewhere, feel free to email me at jstoltey@oplin.org, and I would be happy to answer your question or direct you to someone who can!

·         Purdue Online Writing Lab-- https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/section/1/
Contained within this site are your basic grammar rules and writing tips. This easy to use website helps even the most grammatically defunct writer achieve great success…best of all it’s Free!!

·         Capitol Community College Foundation-- http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/
The Guide to Grammar and Writing is sponsored by the Capital Community College Foundation, a nonprofit 501 c-3 organization that supports scholarships, faculty development, and curriculum innovation. This online guide provides tutorials and digital handouts designed to teach basic skills for writing various types of essays.
·         LEO: Literacy Education Online-- http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/
Developed by St. Cloud State University, this site breaks down various common issues people have when writing research papers, and allows the user to hone in on one specific topic instead of making them sift through tons of concepts before getting to the heart of their problem. 
·         NSCU Libraries-- http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/citationbuilder/
North Carolina State University offers this free online tool to assist in creating APA and MLA source citations online. While you must still provide the information, it does place said information in the correct place for the bibliographical citation.
·         The Chicago Manual of Style-- http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html
One of my personal favsmore than likely because my favorite professor in college required this style to be used.  Now, I actually find this to be the easiest method to use and understand. At any rate, this is a priceless resource to anyone unfamiliar with Chicago Style citations. 
·         Kate L. Turabian’s Manual for Writers Online-- http://www.press.uchicago.edu/books/turabian/turabian_citationguide.html
Within this website, writers will find a wealth of knowledge take straight from Kate Turbain’s 8th edition Manual for writers. Commonly known as Turabian Style Citation, this site is a great source for understanding how to cite sources in this style.
·         Paper Rater-- http://www.paperrater.com/

While there is a paid component to this, the free version is more than sufficient. Simply upload your work (or copy and paste), agree to the terms, and click “Get Report”. It’s that simple. Features include grammar and spelling check, plagiarism check, and word choice check to name a few.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

My Notorious Life


A brilliant rendering of a scandalous historical figure, Kate Manning’s My Notorious Life is an ambitious, thrilling novel introducing Axie Muldoon, a fiery heroine for the ages. Axie’s story begins on the streets of 1860s New York. The impoverished child of Irish immigrants, she grows up to become one of the wealthiest and most controversial women of her day.

In vivid prose, Axie recounts how she is forcibly separated from her mother and siblings, apprenticed to a doctor, and how she and her husband parlay the sale of a few bottles of “Lunar Tablets for Female Complaint” into a thriving midwifery business. Flouting convention and defying the law in the name of women’s reproductive rights, Axie rises from grim tenement rooms to the splendor of a mansion on Fifth Avenue, amassing wealth while learning over and over never to trust a man who says “trust me.”

When her services attract outraged headlines, Axie finds herself on a collision course with a crusading official—Anthony Comstock, founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. It will take all of Axie’s cunning and power to outwit him in the fight to preserve her freedom and everything she holds dear.

Inspired by the true history of an infamous female physician who was once called “the Wickedest Woman in New York,” My Notorious Life is a mystery, a family saga, a love story, and an exquisitely detailed portrait of nineteenth-century America. Axie Muldoon’s inimitable voice brings the past alive, and her story haunts and enlightens the present
(From Goodreads)


     I would like to preface this review with this brief description of this piece . . . What a wild ride! From start to finish, Kate Manning takes the readers from the impoverished Irish immigrant neighborhoods of New York City to the Midwest via the infamous orphan trains, then right back to NYC, but this time with an upscale flair.  Needless to say, while reading “My Notorious Life”, I was thoroughly captivated by not only the geographical adventure, but the ever-evolving characters presented in the book.

     The story begins on the dirty and dangerous street of New York circa 1860. Anne “Axie” Muldoon and her two siblings, Dutch and Joe, are the children of poor Irish immigrants. Left to essentially fend for themselves after the death of their father and the debilitating injury sustained by their mother, the siblings are taken in by the Children’s Aid Society and shipped by orphan train to Illinois with the promise of “a place of hot cider and oxtail stew, new boots and green grass all around.”  Quickly, Dutch and Joe are adopted out, but strong-willed, opinionated   Axie has a harder time finding a home and eventually is sent back to New York. Upon her arrival, she finds that her mother has remarried and is pregnant again. Shortly thereafter, her world is bludgeoned by heartbreak after the sudden death of her mother during the birth of the new sibling.

     Alone again, and even more destitute than before, Axie is determined to change her fate, and accepts a job working for a doctor and his wife who specialize in “female maladies”, which included lunar pills and at times, abortions.  As the doctor begins to trust Axie, she is taught the secret and illegal skills of his profession and finds that she is a natural. This chance opportunity springboards her into a career path that will bring her wealth, riches, notoriety both good and bad, heartbreak, jail time, and ultimately closure to her miserable and wretched past.  

     This story is based loosely on the life of Ann Trow -Lohman, who was dubbed the Wickedest Woman in New York by Mr. Comstock, the leader of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, and the media who documented her trials and tribulations. I found this fast paced, exciting story was given much authenticity by the use of Irish lingo and jargon, and the depiction of immigrant street life is as close to accurate as can be. I found in Axie an unlikely heroine. Regardless of your feelings about her profession, it is hard not to find her triumph over tragedy endearing. The way with which Axie holds her head high through even the roughest waters is admirable and commendable, and left me with a real veneration for her strength and determination. The twist at the end will  truly catch you off guard, as well as make you appreciate the writing prowess and creativity of the author. With My Notorious Life, Kate Manning has found a niche that has been missing in the fiction world. Most of the stories told from this time period are typically male dominated, but in this piece the female voice is strong and true, and brings a fresh, new perspective to 1860’s New York City.  I give this book 4 stars and hope that she writes a follow up in the very near future.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The King's Curse


Regarded as yet another threat to the volatile King Henry VII’s claim to the throne, Margaret Pole, cousin to Elizabeth of York (known as the White Princess) and daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, is married off to a steady and kind Lancaster supporter—Sir Richard Pole. For his loyalty, Sir Richard is entrusted with the governorship of Wales, but Margaret’s contented daily life is changed forever with the arrival of Arthur, the young Prince of Wales, and his beautiful bride, Katherine of Aragon. Margaret soon becomes a trusted advisor and friend to the honeymooning couple, hiding her own royal connections in service to the Tudors.

           After the sudden death of Prince Arthur, Katherine leaves for London a widow, and fulfills her deathbed promise to her husband by marrying his brother, Henry VIII. Margaret’s world is turned upside down by the surprising summons to court, where she becomes the chief lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine. But this charmed life of the wealthiest and “holiest” woman in England lasts only until the rise of Anne Boleyn, and the dramatic deterioration of the Tudor court. Margaret has to choose whether her allegiance is to the increasingly tyrannical king, or to her beloved queen; to the religion she loves or the theology which serves the new masters. Caught between the old world and the new, Margaret Pole has to find her own way as she carries the knowledge of an old curse on all the Tudors.


            I have recently finished devouring the greatly anticipated finale to Philippa Gregory’s Cousin’s War Series entitled The King’s Curse, and I must say it was well worth the wait! In this final installment, Gregory brings the reader into the lavish and dangerous court of King Henry VIII as seen through the eyes of Margaret Pole. Margaret is the close cousin of Elizabeth of York, mother of King Henry VIII. She is the daughter of his uncle George, Duke of Clarence, who was killed for speaking treasonously against his own brother, King Richard. With such a strong link to the throne, Margaret is safely married off to a loyal Knight to ensure that she is not a threat to the reign of King Henry VII, a Tudor and sworn enemy of the York dynasty. She lives in utter anonymity until the fateful day when the newly married Prince of Wales is sent to live under her roof.
As the story opens, Arthur, the Prince of Wales and his young Bride, Katherine of Aragon are being looked after by Margaret, who has been appointed their royal guardian during their honeymoon. Events quickly turn tragic, and Prince Arthur falls ill and dies of the Sweat, leaving poor Katherine a young widow. On his deathbed, Arthur commands Katherine to promise that she will deny that they consummated the marriage, leaving her free to marry his younger brother Henry, who is to be the heir to the throne. Katherine, strong willed just as her mother the Spanish militant Queen Isabella I, heads for London to fulfill her promise to her dying love. Once there, the accusations stir up in regard to her claim of a non-consummated marriage to Arthur, prompting Margaret to be summoned for questions by the overly pious grandmother of the king. Margaret keeps her promise to Katherine and Arthur, and never reveals the knowledge of their honeymoon bliss, insisting that Katherine is a still as pure as the driven snow. Margaret is rewarded by being installed as Queen Katherine’s chief Lady-in-Waiting, beginning a fiercely loyal and loving bond between the two women.
Rumors and turmoil begin to fly around the court as the King openly courts, not one, but two young Boleyn girls, leaving many to wonder what type of king would raise a commoner so high. While many at court privately discuss their displeasure, no one dares confront him on the matter for fear of being on the receiving end of his ever increasing temper. Katherine is publicly shamed with the knowledge that her once dotting husband has allowed not only his eyes, but his heart to stray, leaving her devastated and demeaned in the wake of the Boleyn scandal that all but shattered England. Though it threatens to destroy all that she holds dear, Margaret manages to hold firmly to her beliefs, even when confronted with the choice between her fealty to a pompous and irresponsible King and her love and loyalty for Katherine. This determination to do what is right, however, may very well cost her her life.
 If I have not already expressed this fact, I feel I must disclose out of complete transparency that Philippa Gregory is my favorite author of this genre of historical fiction. I particularly like her way of telling the story not from the obvious voice of the royal involved, but often from a bystander, or from the vantage of someone who merely plays a supporting role. She is a master of finding the strength and fortitude of the women who becomes the storyteller. Also, her attention to historical detail and accuracy speaks volumes to her academic prowess in research and writing. I have previously reviewed the series “The White Queen” that covers the material in this, as well as three other books in the Cousin’s War series. (The White Princess, The Red Queen, and The Kingmaker’s Daughter). I highly recommend the series, both book and film, to anyone interested in this time period.
Now, back to this novel. . . In the final installment of the Cousin’s War, Gregory totally outdoes herself, and writes a book that, even as a standalone, is captivating and full of royal intrigue. This is by no means a Chick-lit book. Oh no! Margaret and Katherine are tough, independent women who stand up for what they believe, regardless the cost. This story does not mince words when it comes to violence and death, allowing the reader an intimate and accurate look into the Tudor Era. As told from the perspective of Margaret Pole, a York royal denied her birthright, The King’s Curse takes you from the elegant, over-the-top court of Henry VIII to the gritty, backroom conspiracies that directed the course of British, and quite possibly world history. It was bittersweet to finish this book knowing it was the last in the series, but I feel as though I have been thoroughly entertained and completely educated given her strict adherence to using a fact based timeline of events. I give this book a full 5 stars, and wait with baited breath to see what Philippa Gregory comes up with next!