My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Royal Reviews' Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2010
"...he'll be remembered as a wife-killer," Will predicted. "And everything else about him that was so brave and loyal and true will be forgot. They will forget he brought peace and prosperity to the country, that he made an England that we could all love. All they will remember of him will be that he had six wives and beheaded two of them. And all they will remember of this queen is that she brought the country floods and famine and fire. She will be remembered as England's curse when she was to have been our virgin queen, England's saviour." - The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory
Hannah Verde is a Jew who escapes the Spanish Inquisition with her book-seller father to begin a new life masquerading as Christians in England. Hannah is begged as a fool to the young king, Edward Tudor, and not just any fool, but a Holy Fool: Blessed with the gift of premonition, she is brought to the court by Robert Dudley to be a companion to the boy-king, and then when it becomes apparent that Edward will die, she is sent off to spy on the heir to the throne, Princess Mary.
During the years that follow, Hannah is used by Robert Dudley to spy on Queen Mary, and by Queen Mary to spy on the Princess Elizabeth. Unsure of where her loyalties should lie, Hannah tries to be as honourable in her tasks as she possibly can, and when pressed about her motives never denies them.
Hannah's gift of "the sight" proves a useful tool to Robert Dudley, John Dee and the Princess Elizabeth as she scries for them to predict the future. However, Gregory has not allowed her character's "special talent" to get in the way of the historical events that unfold during Queen Mary's tumultuous reign. Rather, packed with historical detail, Gregory creates a fascinating insight into the turmoil that England suffered after the death of King Henry VIII.
Set during a time of religious upheaval and confusion, The Inquisition and the burning of heretics, famine, war between England and France and the loss of Calais, The Queen's Fool is a dark, brooding novel that reflects these dark and dangerous times. However, this novel is as much about England as it is about Gregory's fictional main character: Throughout the story the reader experiences Hannah's progression from a timid, selfish child into a strong-willed, selfless woman, determined to find happiness in a sad world.
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