Posts Tagged With: Philippa Gregory

Changeling by Philippa Gregory

Title: Changeling (Order of Darkness #1)
Author: Philippa Gregory
ISBN: 978-0857077301
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Childrens Books
First Published: May 2012 (hardback/audio/Kindle) / January 2013 (paperback)
No .of pages: 272

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (from Fantastic Fiction):
The year is 1453, and all signs point to it being the end of the world. Accused of heresy and expelled from his monastery, handsome seventeen-year-old, Luca Vero, is recruited by a mysterious stranger to record the end of times across Europe. Commanded by sealed orders, Luca is sent to map the fears of Christendom, and travel to the very frontier of good and evil. Seventeen-year-old Isolde, a Lady Abbess, is trapped in a nunnery to prevent her claiming her rich inheritance. As the nuns in her care are driven mad by strange visions, walking in their sleep, and showing bleeding wounds, Luca is sent to investigate and all the evidence points to Isolde’s criminal guilt. Outside in the yard they are building a pyre to burn her for witchcraft. Forced to face the greatest fears of the medieval world – dark magic, werewolves, madness – Luca and Isolde embark on a search for truth, their own destinies, and even love as they take the unknown ways to the real historical figure who defends the boundaries of Christendom and holds the secrets of the Order of Darkness.

I’ve been a huge fan of Philippa Gregory since I read The Other Boleyn Girl ten years ago, and she rarely disappoints. I’ve only ever read her historical fiction (yes, she writes contemporary novels too!), but her research is impeccable and her style unmistakable.

This is the first time Gregory has woven a tale with the young adult market in mind, and it shows a little, but I get the feeling that subsequent books in this series will showcase her talents as she gets used to writing for a slightly younger audience. This first novel in the new series feels  a little more like two connected short stories than one full-length novel, but that didn’t detract from the enjoyment.

There’s more happening more quickly than in her regular historical novels, in which Gregory usually takes the time to introduce her characters and let them develop fully, while weaving them into an intricately intriguing web of intersecting stories. Here we are presented with our young hero and heroine and they pretty much get straight to work. I get the feeling that the characters will become fuller as the series progresses and I will look forward to reading their adventures.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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The White Queen by Philippa Gregory


The White Queen tells the story of a woman of extraordinary beauty and ambition who, catching the eye of the newly crowned boy king, marries him in secret and ascends to royalty. While Elizabeth rises to the demands of her exalted position and fights for the success of her family, her two sons become central figures in a mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the missing princes in the Tower of London whose fate is still unknown. From her uniquely qualified perspective, Philippa Gregory explores this most famous unsolved mystery of English history, informed by impeccable research and framed by her inimitable storytelling skills.

This is the first book in Gregory’s Civil War series. The story follows Elizabeth who marries the new king in secret. At first she is just a young widow in love. She soon realises that this will not be an easy marriage – with the court unhappy about the marriage and brothers going to war against each other. She has to rely on her wit – and a bit of magic to protect herself and her family, while people plot to overthrow her family and even kill them.

I enjoyed Gregory’s Tudor series and was really looking forward to reading this. And I was not let down – I loved it. Gregory writes wonderful historical novels. She does her research well and I never feel like she has made a massive mistake – it always seems realistic and accurate.

Alongside that, she writes a great storyline and great characters. This story is full of adventure, magic, deception and war. Gregory doesn’t pussyfoot around war and the horrors of it, especially back in the middle ages. She writes a gripping tale and wonderful descriptions. We see the battlefield, them hiding in the Tower and in sanctuary in a crypt by the river. So much happened, and it was great reading.

My opinion of Elizabeth changed as the story wore on. At first I liked her – she was young and in love, but the Court got to her and she became determined and headstrong. She was focused on keeping her position as Queen, even if this upset her children and left them isolated without allies. I didn’t like her new character but it felt realistic, power goes to her head. I didn’t particular like Edward her husband. He too was over ambitious. That said, it made for a fantastic read.

I was hooked. Gregory writes exception historical novels that are well worth reading. This one gets top marks from me.

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The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

This is the story of Anne Boleyn, told through the eyes of her sister Mary.  As a young girl, Mary finds herself manipulated by her avaricious family to become King Henry VIII’s lover, with an end to usurping Queen Katherine of Aragon.  The Boleyn’s believe that if Mary becomes queen, they will be vastly elevated in terms of wealth and social status.  Even after having two children by Henry, Mary finds his interest in her waning, and sees that he is turning his affections to her sister Anne.  There is no other choice for Mary than to assist Anne in dethroning Queen Katherine.  As she matures, Mary grows tired of the political games played in the royal court, and decides to make her own way in life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  The Tudors have never been an exciting subject for me, but Philippa Gregory brings the era to life and makes it fascinating.  It should be remembered that this is a fictionalised account of events, and there are differences between what Mary tells and what current historians believe.  (For example, in the book Mary is portrayed as the younger sister, whereas in fact it is now widely accepted that she was older than Anne.  Also, while in the book there is no doubt that Henry is the father of Mary’s children, in truth it was never known for sure).

Each character is distinct and interesting.  Anne does not come out of this account well; she is portrayed as calculating and ruthless.  Mary is drawn more sympathetically (perhaps not surprising as the book is told from her point of view).  Another major character is their brother George, whose own fate is told in this story, and who is a charming and reckless man, who serves in the royal court.  Henry himself is brought to life as a headstrong, spoilt young man, who is utterly handsome and charming in his youth, but who, during the period which the book spans, becomes bloated and unwell.

The story moves along at a steady pace, and even though I knew the ultimate outcome, I still found myself turning the pages quickly, wanting to know what new developments were around the corner.  I would recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in the Tudors (and if you have no interest, this might be a book to change your mind).  After reading it, I found myself wanting find out more about this fascinating and brutal time in England’s history.

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The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

Synopsis (from back of book):
Mary Boleyn catches the eye of Henry VIII when she comes to court as a girl of fourteen. Dazzled by the golden prince, Mary’s joy is cut short when she discovers that she is a pawn in the dynastic plots of her family. When the capricious king’s interest wanes, Mary is ordered to pass on her knowledge of how to please him to her friend and rival: her sister Anne.

Anne soon becomes irresistible to Henry, and Mary can do nothing but watch her sister’s rise. Anne stops at nothing to achieve her own ambition. From now on, Mary will be no more than the other Boleyn girl. But beyond the court is a man who dares to challenge the power of her family to offer Mary a life of freedom and passion. If only she has the courage to break away – before the Boleyn enemies turn on the Boleyn girls…

With The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory offers a tantalising glimpse at the life of one of history’s forgotten women – Mary Boleyn, younger sister of Anne who would go on to become Queen of England. The history of this story is interesting enough, but the richness of description and depth of character development mean that this is more than merely interesting to read – its compulsive!

I found myself able to sympathise with all three of the Boleyn siblings, in particular George, who has to deny his own sexuality and performs above and beyond the call of duty to further advance his beloved sister (although just how far he is willing to go would seem too far by any normal standard).

Mary’s predicament – of being both very young and very married – when presented to the King by her own family as a potential lover, is horrifying to say the least. That a family could be so coldly calculating in their ambition as to force their own daughters into such a precarious position is difficult to believe, and yet history itself tells us it is so – the Boleyns and the Howards were determined to see their fortunes rise by whatever means possible.

It makes for a tale that is both chilling and heart-warming in turn, set against the lavish background of the Tudor court that is so colourful and bright that the reader is lost in the madness of corruption and power plays. If Gregory’s other works are anything like this one, then I will heartily recommend picking them all up as soon as possible.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory

Synopsis (from back of book):
The bitter enmity between Elizabeth the First and Mary Tudor, the daughters of Henry VIII (not to mention the conflict between their mothers Anne Boleyn and Katherine of Aragon) makes the squabbles between modern-day royals seem small beer indeed.

Mary and Elizabeth, the two young princesses, have a common goal: to be Queen of England. To achieve this, they need both to win the love of the people and learn how to negotiate dangerous political pitfalls. Gregory recreates this era with tremendous colour, and she makes the court an enticing but danger-fraught place. Into this setting comes the eponymous fool, the youthful Hannah, who (despite her air of guileless religiousness) is not naive. She soon finds herself having to deal with the beguiling but treacherous Robert Dudley. Dispatched to report on Princess Mary, Hannah discovers in her a passionate religious conviction (to return England to the rule of Rome and its pope) that will have fatal consequences.

As with The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory takes the bones of the story from historical fact, using actual historical figures and events throughout the tale as well as creating a few from her own imagination, and manages to breathe life into them; bringing the Tudor period to the reader in an immensely enjoyable and accessible way. The fear and paranoia felt by all in England at that time is brought to the fore and narrated by Hannah, who would be taken as a heretic for her religion, which she must hide from those around her, and through her gift as a seer she is elevated to a position where she may feel safer, but is, in fact, in danger of being arrested for treason.

The complexity of relationships is a focal point here (Hannah loving Queen Mary but admiring Princess Elizabeth; being enchanted by Robert Dudley but fighting her growing feelings for Daniel Carpenter) and the subtleties are intricately woven into the plot to make this a richly rewarding story with more to offer than just historical detail. It is a tale about following your heart and being true to yourself, even when faced with danger from all sides, learning to live with your decisions and grow as a person because of them. Although there is much detail, Gregory doesn’t allow it to bog down the narrative and she manages to draw the reader into it in such a way that you could believe you were actually there.

It is very well-written and, although not quite as intriguing as The Other Boleyn Girl (in my opinion), The Queen’s Fool has convinced me to get hold of as many of Philippa Gregory’s other works as I can as soon as possible.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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The Wise Woman by Philippa Gregory

Synopsis (from back of book):
Alys joins the nunnery to escape hardship and poverty but finds herself thrown back into the outside world when Henry VIII’s wreckers destroy her sanctuary. With nothing but her tools, her magic and her own instinctive cunning, Alys has to tread a perilous path between the faith of her childhood and her own female power. When she falls in love with Hugo, the feudal lord and another woman’s husband, she dips into witchcraft to defeat her rival and win her lover, only to find that magic makes a poor servant but a dominant master. Since heresy against the new church means the stake, and witchcraft the rope, Alys’s danger is mortal. A woman’s powers are no longer safe to use…

This is one book to which I looked forward immensely, having enjoyed The Other Boleyn Girl, The Queen’s Fool and The Virgin’s Lover very much, but I’m afraid that this novel was a bit of a disappointment by comparison. The premise was wonderful and I relished the thought of immersing myself in the world of the Cunning Woman in the time of Henry VIII, but what I got was something only partially rooted in reality, venturing more into the realms of pure fantasy rather than the historical fiction I’d expected. The life of a Wise Woman would have been interesting enough without all the fantastical additions tagged on here and there. I also felt that although the story progressed, there seemed to be no specific destination, and then, when I came to the last few pages, the end came crashing upon me all at once and left me unsatisfied as I wasn’t sure what point was being made.

It didn’t help that Alys wasn’t such an engaging character as the historical figures described in Gregory’s other novels, nor was she particularly likeable with all her manipulation and fickleness. Unfortunately, she wasn’t unpleasant enough to make her more interesting to me – if she’d particularly delighted in being twisted and cruel, rather than agonising over her actions, it would have made for a sizzling read.

All this is not to say that it wasn’t enjoyable – it was well-written, the persecution and paranoia of the age was atmospheric and evocative, and the more zealously passionate passages were a delight to read, if uncomfortable at times. I wouldn’t say it’s quite up to the standard of Gregory’s other work, but it’s still worth a look.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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