Sunday, May 14, 2006

Books I've read recently

I feel very guilty for not spending more time with my mammoth review book, but given that I'm not taking any other reading material on vacation with me, the book and I will be spending some quality time together very soon. So that's my excuse for blogging instead of reading.

Here are shorter reviews of some other novels I've read recently.

Iris Gower, Destiny's Child. London and NY: Severn House, 1999. 218pp.

This is a re-release of the author's 1974 Robert Hale novel Bride of the Thirteenth Summer, written under the name Iris Davies. Margaret Beaufort, descendant of John of Gaunt and mother of Henry VII, is the protagonist. There's no question in my mind why it was retitled, even though she did in fact marry Edmund Tudor (and give birth to his posthumous son) in her thirteenth year. It's a fast and, from what I can tell, fairly accurate read, at least in terms of major people, places, and dates. However, one part that didn't ring true was the portrayal of Margaret's relationship with the much older Edmund Tudor as a love match; the novel doesn't delve into Margaret's religious piety, either, but then many novels of the period don't. I enjoyed Gower's Welsh sagas considerably more than I did this one, but it wasn't bad.

Helle Stangerup, In the Courts of Power. Trans. Anne Born. London: Macmillan, 1987. 378pp.

Stangerup is a well-known Danish author, according to the jacket, though this appears to be the only novel of hers translated into English. It's a shame, because In the Courts of Power is an excellent historical novel. Christina of Denmark, the heroine, may be best known to English-speaking audiences for her snarky reply to Henry VIII's marriage proposal: that is, that she would gladly become his fourth wife if she had an extra head to spare. Interestingly, Christina was the great-niece of Henry VIII's first wife, Katharine of Aragon. Those of you who don't have the Hapsburg family tree memorized can conveniently find Christina's genealogy on the novel's endpapers.

However, as Stangerup wisely shows us, Christina's role in European politics wasn't limited to her witty repartee. She came from a long line of female regents of various European lands, and she was destined to become one herself. Christina, her brother Hans, and her sister Dorothea are raised by a succession of aunts after their father, Christian II of Denmark, is deposed by his uncle and imprisoned. Married off at a young age to the elderly Duke of Milan, she returns home to the Hapsburg court when he dies. There, she falls in love with Rene of Orange, but, forbidden to marry him, finds peace and unexpected happiness in her marriage to Franz of Lorraine. However, their wedded bliss is all too brief. She spends the rest of her life dealing with political matters, such as Lorraine's continuing troubles with France; she also schemes to help her branch of the family regain Denmark's throne. Her story plays out over a wide canvas that encompasses nearly all of western Europe during the Renaissance. Stangerup occasionally lets us see the action from the viewpoint of commoners living outside of royal circles, which helps provide a comprehensive picture of the times.

Despite the large cast of characters, and my general unfamiliarity with the subject (aside from the basic genealogical relationships), I didn't find the novel hard to follow at all. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about 16th century Europe's political scene, and one particular woman's role in it. Even better, the novel can be purchased fairly cheaply off ABE.

Margaret Ball, Duchess of Aquitaine. NY: St. Martin's Press, 2006. 384pp.

This is one of the better novels about Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England, and one of the few that delves into her younger years. I reviewed this for Booklist, so instead of repeating myself, I'll link to the review on Amazon. On this page you'll also find the gorgeous cover art, which was painted by noted fantasy artist Kinuko Craft. The original can be found at the Duirwaigh Gallery.

I do read other historical novels besides those on royal women, but I seem to have been on this kick recently. Thanks for putting up with it for the time being.

No comments:

Post a Comment