Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle highlights the life of Katherine Parr, a twice widowed and educated woman who married King Henry VIII despite being in love with Thomas Seymour. She holds the distinction of being the only wife of King Henry VIII to survive her marriage to him. Parr is also the least-known of King Henry VIII’s wives and little has been written about her which only adds to the interest and intrigue of Fremantle’s book. Overall, it is an interesting perspective on a lesser-known woman who survived a frightening marriage during a very popular historical time period. There are historical errors and flaws in the book but it is a worthwhile read and one I believe most readers would enjoy particularly those interested in historical fiction.
The prologue sequence which portrays the passing of Katherine’s second husband should be emotional but it never pulls the deep emotion from a reader like it should instead it falls just a little bit flat. It’s a great sequence and it provides excellent insight into Katherine’s religious convictions and faith. Her struggle over the loss of her husband is rooted in religion and faith. Historically there are a few historical inaccuracies in the beginning of the book. It may be enough to discourage readers who thrive on history over fiction in historical fiction novels but if a reader is able to embrace the fiction side of the story and enjoy the speculation into the life of this incredible woman the book becomes a story very much worth reading.
For the most part the pacing is good, especially in the latter part of the book. The beginning of the book is a bit plodding and a lot of that is probably due to the amount of backstory Fremantle includes and the introduction of characters such as Meg (Katherine’s stepdaughter) and Dot (Katherine’s handmaid). It becomes tedious in parts but it passes rather quickly and once the story picks up it becomes captivating and solid. There are also a few instances where a storyline feels rushed just to move the story along and those moments lack proper exploration. For instance, when Katherine first meets Thomas Seymour it’s a brief meeting yet they each feel deeply and hopelessly in love. Their relationship, considering its significance to her life, should have been properly introduced to the novel. Instead, it felt like a plot point simply to progress the story and move along to Katherine’s marriage to Henry.
Queen’s Gambit is primarily told from the perspective of Katherine Parr herself although it does occasionally switch to the POV of Dot, Katherine’s handmaid. The purpose is to provide additional perspective on Katherine’s life yet with every transition between Katherine and Dot the reader disconnects just a little from the fluidity of the story. The story arc becomes momentarily disjointed and it does distract from the novel. It would have been preferable to tell the story either completely from Katherine’s POV or third-person omniscient for full disclosure.
I believe this is Fremantle’s debut novel and for a first published work it is quite good. There are historical flaws in the beginning but overall it is historically sound and the dialogue is near flawless. It is rare to find a historical novel that captures the proper dialogue and vocal note of an era without sounding cliché or exaggerated. Despite taking the occasional liberty with fact, Queen’s Gambit is a wonderful novel that is sure to be enjoyed by most historical fiction fans.
Review by Ashley LaMarClosed the Cover