The Other Queen – Book Review

The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

Wow, was this ever a disappointment.

Like oh so many people, Philippa Gregory’s “The Other Boleyn Girl” was my first foray into historical fiction.  That book sparked an obsession, first of Tudor historical fiction, then of English history historical fiction, then just of historical fiction.  Sure, Gregory took oh-so-many liberties with the story, but the book was so engaging!

Next came “The Queen’s Fool,” which disappointed me a bit because it was largely removed for the court, but I enjoyed it.  Then “The Virgin’s Lover,” which was slightly annoying, as it made Queen Elizabeth look like such a weak, vascilating ninny.  After that was “The Constant Princess,” which was ‘eh’ and “The Boleyn Inheritance,” which I actually really enjoyed.

After all that, I was looking forward to “The Other Queen” enough to break down and buy it in hardcover.

The only reason that wasn’t a mistake is so that I can advise you all to at least wait for the paperback, or to find it used. To be clear, the mistake wasn’t reading it per se (it certainly wasn’t that bad), but paying so much for it.

“The Other Queen” covers what is possibly the least dramatic portion of the life of Mary, Queen of Scots.  We come into the story after her life as the Queen of France, after she has married Darnley, after she has been raped by Bothwell, after the murders of David Rizzio and Darnley, after she was forced to abdicate her throne and tried to win it back.  “The Other Queen” begins with Mary fairly safely in England, and ends well before the dramatic Babington Plot which led directly to her execution.  Yes, all of Mary’s life was fairly dramatic, she is still plotting to be free, still seducing men to her cause.  Sure, the plot to marry Thomas Howard and be returned to her throne in Scotland is exciting, as is Mary’s desire to succeed her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, on the throne of England, even by force.

The problem is, Gregory doesn’t make it that exciting.

Part of the problem is her use of three narrators to tell the story.  Mary, Queen of Scots is given an equal voice with George Talbot and his wife Bess of Hardwick, her jailers.  Because the story moves so often between such different viewpoints, I never cared a whit for any of the actors in the story.  Mary comes off as conniving yet flat, George as a simpering, love-struck idiot, and Bess – who was perhaps meant to be the most sympathetic – as simply not that interesting.  Incidentally, I’m starting to think that Gregory really has issues with Queen Elizabeth I, because she again was depicted as someone who could be swayed by the winds, a Queen without a mind of her own.

A similar structure worked much better in “The Boleyn Inheritance.”  I think the reason it worked there was that the characters were more complementary and not so often at odds with one another.  In addition, if I remember correctly, the chapters for each of those women were longer, so they had more time to build up their voice and make a case for their point of view.

If you just want to complete the set, as it were, read “The Other Queen” (but from the library, a used bookstore, or when it is in paperback).  If your interest in this book stems from a desire to read historical fiction about Mary, Queen of Scots I would recommend “The Captive Queen of Scots” or “Royal Road to Fortheringhay,” both by Jean Plaidy, each of which focuses on a slightly different part of her life (although they overlap and are NOT a series).  I know that Margaret George also has a book, “Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles.”  I like her work, but haven’t read that book in particular, so I cannot speak to how good it is.

Buy “The Other Queen” on Amazon.

Buy “The Captive Queen of Scots” on Amazon.

Buy “Royal Road to Fortheringhay” on Amazon.

Buy “Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles” on Amazon.

19 comments to The Other Queen – Book Review

  • Hello,
    still working my way through new-to-me blogs found via BBAW.

    in awe of your upcoming 1ooth review in a year – I take much longer to think about what I want to say for each one, seems like, so i don’t get nearly as many done. Also I blog about other topics (mostly writing-related) as well. So you have my admiration for quantitiy!

  • That’s a disappointment! I wasn’t planning on buying this at all and now I know that I’ve made the right choice.

    Margaret George’s book about Mary is pretty good. I’d recommend reading it since you’re interested in her.

  • I’ve read two Philippa Gregory books and man were my reactions to them polar opposites. I greatly enjoyed The Other Boleyn Girl but I started The Wise Woman a couple of weeks ago and hated it. I can’t even finish it although I feel like I have to as I got so far into it. The characters are just beyond annoying. I’ll give another of her books a try sometime but I may need some time before I do so.

  • I feel like I’m the only one that hasn’t read a Philippa Gregory book. I’ve picked up a couple secondhand but don’t feel like getting into them.

  • I also owe my current obsession with historical fiction to Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl (the book, not the move). Even with what I later found out to be “historical liberties”, I thought the story was just so darn engaging and interesting. I also really liked The Boleyn Inheritance. I picked The Other Queen up from the library and have read about 75 pages. I’m not really liking it that much and haven’t decided if I’m going to finish it or not. But I think I’m definately glad that I didn’t buy it!

  • I should be getting this book from the library shortly. I stopped buying her books a few books ago, but still can’t seem to break the need to read them.

  • Oh, that’s awful! I’ve been looking forward to reading this book, but will definitely be rethinking that now.

  • I don’t think you would regret reading it, just paying full price for the hardcover.

  • Nice review! I feel the same way as you after reading this book – I called it a “renter”!!!

  • I was just wondering is this a stand alone book or do you have to read the other books too? Sorry for the silly question. The other books sound really good.

  • All of Gregory’s books are standalone.

  • I just finished this and still have to write my own review, but I have to say that I totally agree with you. I am a huge fan of PG and have read all of her books. I think her mistake was picking a time frame that, despite intrique and plotting, was just basically boring. Other than moving back and forth from places of confinement and a platonic love affair, there’s not much action. It’s hard to make excitement out of years of imprisonment, no matter how much plotting is going on. I was not a bad book but definately my least favorite of her titles.

  • When I saw Gregory at the National Book Festival, I really wanted to ask her if she (not-so) secretly hates Elizabeth I because I feel like she portrays her negatively in every book! I hate that this book wasn’t that great, but I’ll still be reading it!

  • This sounds like such an amazing book! I’ve read Queen’s Fool and The Other Boleyn Girl by this author.

  • I enjoyed reading your review – it will help me to not get my hopes TOO high for this book, although I love Philippa Gregory’s books, and Mary Queen of Scots is a family favorite as she was a VERY distant relative many times removed, but it still makes it neat!

    Great review! ~ Wendi

  • Groose

    Philippa Gregory despises Elizabeth. I’ve noticed an incredibly nasty portrayal of her in three different Gregory books! Glad it’s not just me.

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  • […] college, but much of her work after that went downhill, in my opinion. In fact, I disliked “The Other Queen,” so much (after purchasing it in hardcover), that I nearly swore her off completely. […]

  • […] fans, this is no The Other Queen debacle, pick up it. Those of you not already acquainted with Gregory’s work, pick it up if […]