Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Reluctant Queen and the Bored Blogger

For my recent birthday, I got an Amazon gift certificate. Thrifty girl that I am, I spent most of it on used books, and my acquisitions have been rolling in gradually over the past couple of weeks.

First to arrive was a 1962 historical novel, The Reluctant Queen by Molly Costain Haycraft, about Henry VIII's sister Mary (not to be confused with The Reluctant Queen by Jean Plaidy, about Richard III's queen, Anne Neville). Haycraft, as you might know or have guessed, was the daughter of popular historian and novelist Thomas Costain.

Unfortunately, this book didn't give me much bang for my birthday buck. About two-thirds of the novel, which ends with Mary's marriage to Charles Brandon, is concerned with Mary's life before she marries the French king, and although there are a few nice scenes between Mary and her brother, the main focus--the developing love affair between Mary and Charles Brandon--just isn't that interesting. It's the usual story--the lovers get jealous of each other's admirers, have a tiff or two, realize their love, declare their love, and then are separated by mean Harry. Once Mary becomes Queen of France, the book doesn't improve much, though I had a glimpse of hope when little Anne Boleyn appeared on the scene. Unfortunately, her appearance was only a cameo one, as was Jane Seymour's. Even the lecherous Francis doesn't liven up the novel as much as he should. Charles Brandon must have been quite the charmer, but it doesn't come through here, I'm afraid. He and Mary are personable and attractive, but not much more than that, and as a result the book just never lit up for me.

I've read two other books by Haycraft, King's Daughters, about the daughters of Edward I and especially his daughter Elizabeth, and The Lady Royal, about Isabella, daughter of Edward III, and found them to be more entertaining than this one. Perhaps the difference lies in that these books dealt with relatively obscure people, and thus weren't retreading familiar ground, whereas Mary and Brandon's story has been told many times, requiring anyone who writes about them yet again to display more pizazz than was exhibited here.

All in all, a pleasant enough love story, but not something I'd recommend tracking down except for lovers of all things Tudor.

Speaking of which, I'm debating whether to buy the forthcoming Philippa Gregory novel or just to wait my turn at the library. Those who have read it seem to prefer it over her earlier novels, which I didn't really care for, so perhaps I'll take the plunge.

5 comments:

Deirdre said...

After some internal debate, I decided last September to pre-order Gregory's latest, in spite of her last three Tudor novels after The Other Boleyn Girl (which I quite liked aside from some rather glaring historical inaccuracies). I guess one of the biggest reasons I ordered it in spite of past disappointments was to see how she would handle the character of Jane Parker-Boleyn, the Lady Rochford, after she was portrayed as such a nasty piece of work in The Other Boleyn Girl. From what I've heard, Gregory chose the "she went insane" route, which has some historical basis, since before her execution alongside Catherine Howard Henry did pass a law that made it permissable to execute insane persons, since Lady Rochford's behavior prior to her execution had appeared so irregular.

There's a small excerpt from the novel up at Phillipa Gregory's website.

Sherhazade said...

I enjoyed The Other Boleyn Girl, but I haven't had time to read Gregory's other novels. I have never read Haycraft, although I've read some of her father's works and did enjoy them (I still have them, actually, yellowed and decaying though they are). Anyway, if I have a point here at all, it's that I also love historical fiction (but have very little time to read it at the moment) and am enjoying your site.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Thanks for the info, Deidre! On the whole, I'm looking forward to reading this one. Think I'll get it from the brick-and-mortar bookstore so I can give it a good skim first.

Sherhazade, thanks for stopping by! I don't think Molly Costain Haycraft is in the same league with her father, but I found Lady Royal a pleasant enough read.

Anonymous said...

I was a huge fan of Molly Costain Haycraft in junior high, and do recall enjoying The Reluctant Queen (to the point that when I heard the recent Tudor series on Showtime had eliminated the character of Mary Rose I was quite indignant on her behalf, not to mention what did they do about Lady Jane Grey?!). However, it was Too Near the Throne that was my favorite, about Arbella Stuart. Perhaps these books wouldn't stand up to a reread as an adult but as books with (as I thought) accurate historical background intended for a teen audience I thought they were very good, albeit not in the same class as Margaret Irwin. You should try to hunt down Another Spring by Katherine Wigmore Eyre.

Constance

Susan Higginbotham said...

Hi, Constance! I'll have to keep an eye out for Too Near the Throne and Another Spring. I've been enjoying the Tudor series but I am annoyed about what they did with Henry's sisters!