BLURB: “Thirty-one and twice widowed, Katherine Parr must return to court – where an ageing Henry VIII has just had his fifth wife beheaded, and is searching for a sixth. As those around her scheme and plot on behalf of the King, Katherine falls for seductive Thomas Seymour. But her hopes of marrying for love are dashed when Henry dispatches Seymour abroad and makes Katherine his Queen. Trapped in a court riven by factions as dying Henry’s reign draws to its end, Katherine must use all her instincts to survive not just the obese King’s increasingly menacing behaviour but the treachery of those closest to him…”
REVIEW: Historical novels about Katherine Parr are unfortunately few and far between. History has often painted Katherine as the dull final wife, bookish and placid. who acted as more of a nurse than a wife to her ageing and temperamental husband. Fremantle, however, turns this reputation on its head, brilliantly portraying Katherine as the intelligent, compassionate and intensely religious woman that she was, and showing how she suffered at the hands of both her husband and a court torn apart by political and religious rivalries. Katherine’s relationship with her stepdaughter Meg and their servant girl, Dot, who becomes a second protagonist in the novel and plays a very important role in Katherine’s life, also adds more depth to Katherine’s character. The addition of Dot is also clever as it allows the reader to view life at the Tudor court from both the upper class and lower class perspective, meaning that we develop a greater understanding of the court as a whole. I really thoroughly enjoyed Fremantle’s portrayal of Katherine, who we so rarely get the chance to read about in depth, and was particularly gripped by reading of how close Katherine herself came to suffering the fate of two of her predecessors, Anne Boleyn and Kathryn Howard, due to her religious views. Fremantle’s portrayal of Henry himself was also very interesting – his volatile temper and his almost childish enthusiasm for playacting and tantrums made it easy to side with Katherine, whom the reader feels great sympathy for throughout the novel. When Katherine marries Thomas Seymour after the King’s death it is initially presented as an escape for her, a true love match; but any reader who knows of the history behind the marriage would know that Seymour undoubtedly did more bad for Katherine than good, and we are heartbroken with her to learn of his betrayal with Katherine’s own stepdaughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I, with whom he has an affair. The tragic ending of Katherine’s tale leaves the reader truly mourning, as Fremantle has written her so vividly that we almost feel as though we know her by the end of the book. I would very highly recommend this book and was hugely impressed with both Fremantle’s characterisation of the key figures of the period and by how accurately she depicts the court atmosphere.