A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir – Book Review

A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir
Published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House

In less than a century, England saw two rulers who would be recorded in the popular history as usurpers: Richard III and Lady Jane Grey. When Jane Grey is overthrown by Queen Mary Tudor after ruling for only nine days, her younger sister Katherine Grey feels that her life has been torn asunder. Not only is she no longer the sister of the Queen and instead the sister and daughter of traitors, but her marriage to her beloved husband is annulled by his father, who no longer sees their match advantageous. Kate Plantagenet, illegitimate daughter of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, had a happy early life, but after the death of her uncle, King Edward IV, suspicion begins to invade her life as her father’s actions in regards to the kingdom and his nephews seem increasing suspect. As relatives to unsuccessful claimants to the Crown, Katherine and Kate have many parallel experiences and a shared obsession with the fate of Edward IV’s sons, the boys who would become known as the Princes in the Tower.

I have had mixed reactions to Alison Weir’s fiction, but really enjoy her nonfiction, so when I heard she had a new novel coming out I was excited check it out. I was not terribly sure about the idea of dual historical time periods going between the reign of Richard III and the reigns of the three Tudor women; it seemed likely not to flow well, or to be too contrived. As I began reading Kate and Katherine’s stories, though, I realized just how many similarities there were in the broad strokes of their stories, with the ascension and dethroning of their family members with pretensions to the throne. This was even more true as both women underwent these experiences when they were quite young and thus had to deal with the way that these events influenced their matrimonial prospects.

Early on it seems that Kate and Katherine’s shared interest in the Princes in the Tower was going to be unsatisfying and a bit of a loose thread, but a little over halfway through A Dangerous Inheritance the pieces begin to come together and this commonality between the women weaves their narratives together even more coherently than their shared status as the kin of traitors. Ultimately A Dangerous Inheritance is a captivating pair of stories with incredibly appealing and sympathetic main characters and I can definitely recommend it.

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Source: Publisher, via Netgalley.
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The Passionate Brood by Margaret Campbell Barnes – Book Review

The Passionate Brood: A Novel of Richard the Lionheart and the Man Who Became Robin Hood by Margaret Campbell Barnes
Published by Sourcebooks

After Henry VIII, Richard I, otherwise known as Richard Coeur de Lion or Richard the Lionheart, is probably one of England’s best known kings. Perhaps this notoriety derives from his snappy nickname and his association with the Crusades, but I would argue that a large part as well comes from his reign being the background of the legend of Robin Hood. In “The Passionate Brood,” Campbell Barnes combines historical fiction of Richard’s life – from before the death of his older brother and father until his own death – with the the Robin Hood legend. In this version, Robin is the son of Hodierna, the Plantagenet nursemaid, and Richard’s own best friend and foster brother until he regretfully declines to join Richard on his crusade and is outlawed by the passionate king.

“You got legend in my historical fiction!”
“You got historical fiction in my legend!”
Two great genres, better together!

Sorry, that’s out of my system now.

Anyway, I really enjoyed how Barnes worked the legend of Robin Hood realistically into Richard’s reign. It all made sense and flowed completely naturally from both Richard and Robin’s characters. I think the historical legend/fantasy is always that which is well-integrated into solid history.

That being said, i was slightly disappointed to find that Robin was really just a supporting character to Richard’s story in “The Passionate Brood.” Considering that the second half of the subtitle is “…and the Man Who Became Robin Hood” I really expected to see more of Robin’s story once the two men part ways, perhaps cut between Richard on his crusade and Robin adjusting to life as an outlaw. Instead, “The Passionate Brood” dealt more with how the memory of Robin’s character and the guilt over the mens’ estrangement worked on Richard psyche, which was still very interesting, just different than I expected.

Well written an interesting, I can definitely recommend Margaret Campbell Barnes’ “The Passionate Brood.”

Buy this book from:
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*

This review was done with a book received from the publisher.
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Captive Queen by Alison Weir – DNF Book Review

Captive Queen by Alison Weir

Eleanor of Aquitaine is perhaps one of the most interesting queens that England ever had (sorry, Victoria, but I don’t think you hold a candle to Eleanor). She seems to have been the ultimate in smart and sassy 12th century women, unafraid to speak her mind, leave her first husband, or side with her sons in a revolt against her husband, King Henry II of England. ┬áSo naturally, I was ecstatic when I read that Alison Weir’s new work of fiction would be about her.

Except that this was the most disappointing book I’ve read in a long time. Not necessarily the worst I’ve read, but the most disappointing, because I expect more from Weir. The dialogue was absolutely terrible, very stilted and modern, with Eleanor provocatively asking Henry to prove his manhood to her while she was still married to the King of France.

Which of course brings us to all the sex. Much has been made of the excessive sex in “Captive Queen.” I have no inherent problem with Eleanor as a sexual being. Honestly, I’ve always thought of her as a woman who wanted to make sure she took her pleasure, since that is consistent with the first fictional treatment of Eleanor I read. What I do have a problem with, is the excessive sex starting right at the beginning of the book. From what I understand it doesn’t necessarily continue, but it just made “Captive Queen” come across as tawdry from the beginning. Basically, it was just another example of the book being ill-crafted.

From another author, I might have actually finished the book, but Weir can do better. The beginning was bad enough that even if the rest of the book was solid, it simply wasn’t worth my time, especially since I know there are better treatments of Eleanor out there.

Case in point, “The Courts of Love” by Jean Plaidy. Like Weir, Plaidy views Eleanor as a strong woman and a sexual being. However, she works Eleanor’s sexuality in natural way instead of dumping it all in the beginning. Her Eleanor also has much more natural speech pattern.

Consensus: Skip Weir’s new book, and pick up the Plaidy reissue “The Courts of Love” instead. Bonus: it is in paperback!

I received “Captive Queen” from the publisher via LibraryThing Early Reviewers. I purchased “The Courts of Love” with my own money.