Saturday, January 7, 2012

Blog readers! Well met!

I had a lot of fun over my winter holidays. I did a lot of reading.

I never thought I would be that person who would find herself obsessed with 16th century England. I never watched a single episode of 'The Tudors', medieval plots in novels bore me to tears and I'd rather have my eyeballs gouged out with a finely honed ankle dagger than attend a 'Ren Faire'. I do have a documented fascination with Jane Austen novels and their movie adaptions, but that's a different time period entirely. And I'm over that. Well, mostly...

But in the deepest, darkest December, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands. Quite accidentally, I picked a new paperback off the shelf at my local library, entitled 'The Red Queen.' I'll be honest here: The book was brand spanking new and that's SO rare for a library book. Mostly, I just wanted to enjoy the crisp pages and the 'new book' smell. The plot was secondary. The thing is, the book was GREAT! I loved it!

Mainly, I loved the main character, who was a self-absorbed bitch and I was fascinated by the machinations of the English monarchy and the court. Also, I loved the mostly modern use of language in the books. Aside from the occasional 'Well met!', Gregory's characters spoke like real people, as if royal court of King Henry VIII had been linguistically transplanted to the 21st century.

It was a slippery slope from there. After I finished 'The Red Queen' (a novel about Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VIII), of *course* I had to read the companion novel, 'The White Queen' (a novel about Elizabeth Woodville, one-time Queen of England) which led to 'The Other Boleyn Girl' (more Henry VIII) and that was absolutely gripping (I think it's still my favourite). I followed that up with 'The Constant Princess' (Katherine of Aragon, first wife of the moronic Henry VIII).

Suddenly, I was up to my neck in Tudors and loving every minute of it. I even popped over to Wikipedia and looked up some names. In doing so, I realised that I'd become something of a light-weight authority on the monarchy of King Henry VIII. The names jumped out at me, relationships between people became clear and I was all "Hey, these are my peeps! My Tudor peeps!".

It amazed me that Philippa Gregory was not making this stuff up! Well, okay, she *does* stretch the facts a fair bit, augmenting, elaborating. But she's really onto something quite brilliant! She doesn't have to come up with any plots - they're already written and she remains remarkably faithful to the historical record. I do realise that this is the premise behind all historical fiction, but I think Gregory does it particularly well. I yawned through this entire period of history in university but in reading these books, I found myself riveted.

Luckily for me, Gregory is very prolific. I probably have another month of good fun waiting for me in her other novels (I just started a new one about Queen Elizabeth I's affair with Robert Dudley). I'm not sure if this is as much an endorsement as a warning: these books will swallow you into a medieval black hole and you'll emerge thousands of pages later, thinking about how you can retain the Spanish as allies while still holding off the Scots on your northern border. And is there any marchpane in the pantry, because you could really use a snack.

What say you, blog readers? Have any of you read these books? If so, well met! Let's joust! ;-)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Ragdoll said...

I read The Other Boleyn Woman, and was kind of disappointed to be honest. Sorry, I mean, 'by some unfortuneate circumstance it appears I was to be thwarted in my attempts to enjoy such cultural delights' . . . I might write all my emails like that from now on.

And your post has just helped me figure out why - it's because I started reading it knowing it was supposed to be closely based on historical fact, so the characters came across as a little one dimensional sometimes. They kind of seemed to be there just to move the plot forward, rather than to actually be real, living people. If I'd have approached it more as fiction I think I'd have enjoyed it a lot more.

Have you read Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel? It's about the same period, but more from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, and it's interesting to see how your sympathies shift when you read about the same events from a different point of view. It's a massive read but I really liked it.

Kaivalya said...


Nice to hear from you! And I remembered not to call you 'Teacup' (do you remember that? ha, ha!)

Funny, when I picked up the books, I thought they were entirely fictional. So I was completely amazed to go to Wikipedia and find out that they were based very closely on historical fact. I"m still reading them. They're not great literature or anything, but I'm having so much fun! Sometimes, that's enough :-)

I will definitely check out 'Wolf Hall'. I seem to be on a Medieval/Tudor/English Monarchy kick.