The Queen’s Fool–Philippa Gregory


I’ve read a couple of these books, but it’s been a long time. Fortunately, this isn’t a series in that there are continuing characters so I can pick up where I left off.

If you aren’t aware of Philippa Gregory, she does historical fiction set in the Tudor courts. Her most famous book (“The Other Boleyn Girl”) was made into a movie a few years ago.

This book centers on a young Jewish girl whose mother was killed by the Spanish Inquisition. Hannah inadvertently attracts the attention of a member of the powerful Dudley family and is recruited to court to act as a “holy fool” for the very sick Edward VI. This is because she occasionally has flashes of foreknowledge that the royal family finds useful.

Edward, of course, dies. The Dudleys send her to the future Queen Mary I, with instructions to spy on her. Hannah does, but develops an affection for the queen regardless. When she ascends the throne, Mary uses her much the same way, sending her periodically over to Princess Elizabeth as a spy.

Of course, the entire time Hannah is concerned that she and her family could be outed as Jews and condemned, and as the height of the religious cleansing under Mary I approaches, she and her family escape to Calais, where she marries her betrothed and settles into an uneasy existence as a wife. It’s not easy to be a housewife when you’re used to the Tudor court.

Eventually she leaves her husband when she discovers he has a lover and a child. Even his promises not to see them any more do not move her. But when the Spanish and French attack Calais and his lover is killed, she uses her previous connection with the Dudleys to get herself and her husband’s child back to England. She survives until the end of Mary’s reign and with the relative freedom of Elizabeth’s reign, brings her husband back to England where they will presumably live happily ever after.

The Tudor period is one of my favorites, because it’s so full of drama and intrigue. Of course, it was a highly dangerous time to be alive. At almost any point during the Tudor period you could find yourself executed or imprisoned for little or no reason. These books are frivolous–beach reading, if you will–but well done and solidly researched. If you like lightweight historical fiction, these are good choices for you.



Warriors of the Storm–Bernard Cornwell


New book alert!

The blurb on the back suggests these books are like Game of Thrones (or more accurately “A Song of Ice and Fire” because we should be comparing book series to book series and not book series to TV show) but I would disagree with that sentiment. These books are far more focused, have less than a million characters and aren’t filled with magic.

Not to mention (AHEM, George RR Martin) these books are actually published as scheduled.

These books follow Uhtred, born to the lord of Bebbanburg, in Northumbira, but captured by Vikings when he was young and raised as a Viking. As an adult, he fights for the Saxons against the Vikings but retains a Viking sensibility and a commitment to the Norse gods in direct conflict with the emerging power of the Christian faith.

In this book, Uhtred is getting older and is in command of Ceaster, a fortified burgh on the river. Holding the rivers protects the interior from Vikings coming from Ireland. The adjoining burgh, at the mouth of the river, has been breached and Ragnall has managed to bring an army of about a thousand men into England and are rebuilding an abandoned burgh nearby.

He doesn’t have the men to repel this invasion but he soon realizes that Ragnall isn’t really planning to take Mercia, at least not immediately, but rather is planning to take control of the unfocused Viking tribes in Northumbria and then lead a massive army down to take Merica. This is not ideal, obviously.

As an added complication, Ragnall’s brother is Uhtred’s son in law. Fortunately, the son in law is sitting this one out in Ireland, mostly because Ragnall would like to take all his land and also take Uhtred’s daughter as his fifth wife.

It’s up to Uhtred to figure out how to save his daughter from Ragnall’s siege, stop the invasion of the Viking army that vastly outnumbers him, and prevent the scourging of Mercia and Wessex.

Fortunately, Uhtred is clever and wiley and still a strong fighter.

I love these books. The BBC is working on a series based on these books and I cannot wait to see it.



The Last Kingdom–Bernard Cornwell


This is the first of a series. The series is good, and they’re making it into a show (miniseries? I’m not entirely sure) at the BBC.

The series traces the struggle between the native peoples of what is now England and the Viking invaders.

There’s no “England” as such. There’s a bunch of kingdoms, none of which are very big and most of which are minimally powerful. Hence, the island seemed like easy pickings for the Vikings. The books trace the life of Uthred, the heir to Northumbria.

This first book starts with a Viking landing and attack on Northumbria. Uthred goes to battle with his father. His father is killed and he is captured by the Vikings. The Vikings are good to him, training him as one of them. He learns Danish and follows the Danish gods and becomes a solid warrior.

After a happy childhood among the Vikings, there’s a dispute with one of the other Viking bands, and Uthred escapes likely death by joining King Alfred of Wessex. Alfred likes having the heir to Northumbria in his hand and teaches him to read and write. Then he offers Uthred a deal: he can control Alfred’s new ships if he marries an orphaned Wessex woman with lands. It sounds like a good deal, but there’s a catch. The woman’s land is indebted. By marrying her, he’s marrying the debt. He’ll spend way too much of the next few books trying to get that taken care of.

He gets captured by Vikings. The Vikings kill off the captives, but Uthred survives because of his friendship with the son of his adoptive father. He then finds out that his wife and son were taken by another Wessex minor lord, and he chases them down. As he’s looking for them, he stumbles into a major battle between Wessex and the Vikings.

These books are great to read. They’re fast and they’re exciting. Highly recommended.