My first thoughts about this novel was that like a couple of Gregory’s other books it was a bit repetitive in places. Margaret is constantly reminding us that she is a Tudor and of her rivalry with Katherine that you feel like she is saying the same thing over and over. I felt the same with The Red Queen and The King’s Curse. The book was a bit of a slow-burner but I found myself reading it faster as it went on.
The story focuses on the lives of Margaret Tudor, Mary Tudor and Katherine of Aragon and is told from Margaret’s point of view. We see each woman become queen, get married, have children, lose children and deal with being a woman in mediaval times.
The main character, Margaret, isn’t very likable. She seems very fickle, her attitude to people seems to change like the wind. She loves Katherine of Aragon then she hates her then she loves her again then she hates her. She seems insecure (as so many of the Tudors are) so she eats up any attention or compliment even if it is obvious she’s being lied to. She supposedly hates Douglas who is unfaithful and power-hungry and so two-face but she believes his lies so easily, she seems to force herself to believe him. She seems so easy to lead and manipulate. Douglas wraps her around his finger. Then Henry Stewart shows her a little bit of attention and all of a sudden she is in love with him.
Margaret is petty and intensely superficial at times – it is obviously written this way deliberately but it is really annoying at times. She is called out on it a few times in the book and at times she is the worst example of the stereotype of womanhood at that time. She can never quite get over the selfishness of her youth no matter how serious the situation or the consequences of her behaviour. She delights in other’s misfortunes and can’t see others being happy without being jealous of them.
Scotland was portrayed well in this novel I thought. It was not seen as barbaric but as politically complicated. And I liked the character of James IV. He seemed cultured and wise, sophisticated, open to new ideas in different subjects. Though he was somewhat troubled over the guilt over his father’s death. I thought he was extremely patient with Margaret, even when she was at her worst.
At one point Margaret says “There is only one bond that I trust: between a woman and her sisters. We never take our eyes off each other. In love and in rivalry, we always think of each other.” But I think of the three of them it is only Margaret who shows any signs of feeling this way. Katherine and Mary seem totally unware of the rivalry that Margaret is so focused on. Although we don’t hear their voices, Mary and Katherine seem to have nothing but genuine happiness or concern for the others. They don’t appear to have an agenda at all.
I read Philippa Gregory because I always have and I probably will always buy her books, she introduced me to historical fiction but there are better writers of historical fiction out there now. It took me a while to get into this book but I enjoyed it more as it went on. And I think there are better portrayals of Margaret Tudor out there. I would still recommend it to Philippa Gregory fans.