Tuesday, March 05, 2024

Flora Carr's The Tower explores a dark, pivotal year in Mary, Queen of Scots' life

Carr’s taut debut recalls Maggie O’Farrell’s The Marriage Portrait (2022) in its evocation of a highborn Renaissance woman trapped against her will and desperately contriving to escape. The setting: Lochleven Castle, a stone fortress on a Scottish island, hauntingly picturesque from outside, but a dank, oppressive prison for Mary, Queen of Scots and her two chamberwomen, Jane and Marie, called “Cuckoo.”

In 1567, Mary, the embattled Catholic ruler of a Protestant country, is with child by her third husband, the despised Bothwell, and pressured to abdicate in favor of her one-year-old son, James. The women’s shifting emotional patterns, and regular flashbacks illustrating the political background, keep tension bubbling and prevent the story from feeling claustrophobic. Mary’s childhood friend Lady Seton joins the trio later, complicating their dynamics.

Mary remains captivating as she earns and feeds off others’ devotion; Carr dexterously explores how the seductive allure of royalty is undimmed by Mary’s grim circumstances, which are depicted with earthy physicality. Despite Mary’s foreshadowed downfall, this pulled-from-history event resounds as a victory for female camaraderie and cleverness.

The Tower is published today in the US by Doubleday, and this is the draft review I'd submitted for Booklist (the final version was published in the 2/15 issue).  If you know the history, it's a novel that will have you reconsidering all of the characters in a new way, including (especially) Mary, Queen of Scots.  If you don't mind some spoilers about the real history behind the story and how it ends, read more at The History Press.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your review with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.