What Do Donald Trump and a Tudor Romance Novel Have in Common? (Book Review: The Queen’s Fool)

The Queen's Fool (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels, #12)The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: abandoned, brit-lit, chick-lit, dnf, historical-fiction, i-am-an-anglophile, icky-romance, merry-olde-england, ugh, rapey-romance, was-the-editor-drunk

I started writing this review in a state of annoyance. I’d decided that this shitshow of an election has got me completely discombooberated and I was going to blame my dislike of this book on Donald Trump. Rest assured that my politics have nothing to do with the rest of this review, so carry on.
I was really getting into a bit of Tudor fiction that portrayed Bloody Mary as a sympathetic character instead of an insecure and vengeful woman who was lickety-split with a death warrant and kept her skin smooth by bathing in her victims’ blood. I was settling right in, with my blankie and my tea, for another I’d enjoy as much as I enjoyed The Other Boleyn Girl and The Boleyn Inheritance.

Alas.

The problem with this book started out to be the narrator herself, who is just not believable to me. Robert Dudley scoops a kid pretty much off the street and places her in Mary Tudor’s court as a spy, and Mary then sends her on to spy on Elizabeth, and both Mary and Elizabeth just blindly accept the little sneak and bring her close as a confidante? They seek her advice and spill their innermost secrets and want her by their sides during their darkest times, each knowing she’s loyal to pretty much anyone she meets, including their respective enemies, and was originally brought to each of them in order to watch and report?

That’s the setup. Mary, who received Hannah as a spy courtesy of Robert Dudley, packs Hannah off to watch and gather evidence that Elizabeth was involved in Wyatt’s Rebellion, even though she already has enough evidence to hang Elizabeth several times over. About a month later Elizabeth and Hannah have this exchange:

“Have you heard from Lord Robert? From any of the others? Is there no one there who will help me?”

“Lady Elizabeth, there is no one who can rescue you, there is no force that can come against your sister.”

“Well okay then, everybody calls me a whore, at least once a chapter, and even though I’ve already told you I was way too smart to put anything in writing, I’ll just turn myself in to be tried for treason, and meekly lay my head on the block, even though I’m Elizabeth I, THE MOST KICKASS QUEEN IN ALL OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION.”

I made that last one up, but you get the idea. I know Elizabeth really did submit to questioning and was held in the Tower for a while with her main squeeze Leicester, who also stirs the loins of our little spy Hannah. My point is that it’s frankly incredible that our 14-year-old female Spanish Jew refugee nobody narrator apparently has some acumen as a political strategist along with having the trust and ear of everybody who is anybody. Every time we see this, I’m just rolling my eyes.

Sometimes the writing just didn’t make sense. The heat from her hair misted the glass and She was as pale as her white dress when she first got into the litter, but she was blanched like skimmed milk by the time we had ridden down King’s Street. How is skimmed milk even whiter than a white dress? How is a woman’s hair hot enough to fog glass? Is her hair on fire? Silliness.

Another irritant, perhaps more irritating than they should have been, were the constant comma splices: He looked like a prince in a storybook, he was laughing. Those are two independent clauses and should be separated by a period, a semicolon, or some connecting phrase. It’s a style error that is no big deal now and then, but it is just all the freaking time in this book, and I grew tired of rereading sentences because incorrect structure was tripping me up. We have language rules for a reason. Most of these things should have been caught through competent editing.

All of the foregoing was the annoying part. Now we come to the part that just plain pissed me off, and so I climb up on my soapbox. The icky romance just has to descend into rapey romance, the woman pulling away until the man pushes her up against a wall and she decides she’s hot for him after all. Oh, since you shoved your hand down my bodice even after I said no, because I’m a slut who’s asking for it even if I don’t know it until you convince me, then you’re right, I want you, so, so, so bad. WHY MUST YOU DO THIS, PHILIPPA? Young women are, presumably, reading this book, and this dreck is informing their worldview of what love and romance are supposed to be and what their own decisions and desires are worth. When women say no and men force themselves anyway, it’s not because the women are just completely irresistible and the men are just so deeply in love. Nope nope nope-ity nope. It’s because the men are rapey pigs. Mmmkay? (On second thought, maybe I wasn’t done with Donald Trump.) I’ve got two concepts for you here, Ms. Gregory: “rape culture” and “misogyny.” Publishing this kind of crap contributes to both.

I am so disappointed. Dnf-ing at 41%, and I’m not sure I’ll return to this author.

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Author: Deborah Lee

I like trees, dreaming, magic, books, paper, floating, dreaming, rhinos, rocks, stargazing, wine, dragonflies, trains, and silence to hear the world breathe.

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