I have read all of Philippa Gregory’s historical novels (and a LOT of other historical fiction as well) but this one didn’t do much for me. Awarded 3 stars on Goodreads.
It’s a history of the three Grey daughters (Jane, Katherine, and Mary) who are granddaughters of Mary, younger sister of King Henry VIII. The novel takes place during the reigns of Henry’s children (Edward VI, Mary I, Elizabeth I) all cousins to the Grey sisters. The importance of these girls originates in the will of King Henry, who names this line to succeed his line (rather than his older sister Margaret whose direct descendant is Mary Queen of Scots.) Mary’s descendants are also preferred by most of the court because they are Protestant, while Margaret’s are Catholic. And why is this so important? Because Queen Elizabeth, Henry’s last surviving child, is unmarried, childless and hasn’t named her heir.
The novel is divided into three sections, each “narrated” by one of the three sisters.
• Jane – (better known as Lady Jane Grey) becomes the 9 Days Queen, a short interlude between Edward VI and Mary 1. She is depicted as an annoyingly pious Protestant reformer, badly used by older men competing for political power. And if you know anything about this era of history, you know how this one turns out.
• Katherine – considered the beauty of the three is determined to marry for love. Hers was the most interesting story to me since I knew little about her.
• Mary – in service to Queen Elizabeth, is treated by many at court as less important because she is what is now called as a “little person” or dwarf. And I didn’t feel I got to know her that well.
These are not particularly likable characters. Jane is portrayed at lacking warmth and overly obsessed with learning and religion. Katherine is vain and self-absorbed. Mary remains enigmatic.
Surrounding these three women are the politics and stories so intrinsic to the Elizabethan court. There is the Queen’s favorite Robert Dudley and the mysterious death of his wife and his desire to marry Elizabeth. There is the evolving story of Mary Queen of Scots and her multiple husbands. All the talk surrounding which foreign princes Elizabeth might marry. It’s not a particularly flattering portrait of Elizabeth I, who comes across as vain, petty, jealous and vengeful. In fact, few people in this novel are very likable.
Overall, I think the Grey stories are less interesting than those of other Gregory’s novels. This one felt like a bit of a chore slogging through to the end. I will say the second half of the book is more interesting than the first. So if you find your interest flagging, you might skim for a while and then begin reading in earnest again when you get to the middle.