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on July 15, 2004
I will discuss major plot points for The Queen's Fool and give very minor spoilers for a few other Gregory works in this review. If this bothers you, please do not read further.
Like many readers, I first found Gregory through her absolutely stellar The Other Boleyn Girl. I am not a Tudor scholar, but the world of paranoia and political machinations felt absolutely correct. Gregory is a very skilled writer, and, not incidentally, writes romance and intimate scenes with impressive economy and impact. I hunted down and read many Gregory books, many of which are out of print (though the superbly demented Wideacre and its two inferior sequels have been reprinted). I learned several things about the author Gregory. She has a good handle on history, and has the very rare talent of writing about historic people and events without essentially regurgitating the half-digested mental contents of a three-month library trip onto the page, as so many historical novelists who write about feisty gals are wont to do. As I mentioned earlier, she writes about sex and love in an involving and, yes, titillating manner. She does not impose artificial "happy" endings and she is happy to write about flawed, even despicable women (and men, though most of her main characters are women, with the delightful exception of John Tradescant in Earthly Joys) as opposed to the Rhodes Scholars of historic fiction. (Their only flaw? They're stubborn! Arggh! See: Pope Joan, Year of Wonders, to name two.) And she has an odd fondness for writing about people who are not at the center of things, but just off-center. The Other Boleyn Girl, of course, is a shining and beautifully executed example of this.
So I was obviously transported with delight when I saw The Queen's Fool in paperback; even its cover was reminiscent of The Other Boleyn Girl. The Queen's Fool certainly opens with a bang, no pun intended, and I was waiting for the book to be great. Well - it wasn't. The tension and lust and mild historic elaboration in the first chapter? That was the high point.
The main character in this book is a young Jewish girl named Hannah Green (or Hannah Verde.) In an intriguing touch of the fantastic, Hannah is psychic. She, together with her father, is fleeing the Inquisition in Spain, which has claimed her mother. Hannah is also extremely well educated, which is understandable, since her father is a bookseller and Jews tended to be more literate in that time period on average. However, as I continued to read, Hannah's tale failed to grab me. Hannah is engaged to a nice Jewish boy, but she's in lust with the very hot Robert Dudley. And she wears boy's clothing, which she apparently continues to wear through most of the book.
(Please, girlfriend!)
Gregory plays around with Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, making the first sympathetic (at least at first) and the second kind of a bitch, but a charming one. She's at her best when writing about the queens. But Hannah - I was surprised to see it - she's dull. And her story line is shockingly treacly, especially for Gregory. The nice Jewish boy? She kind of falls for him and they have a nice sensible relationship based on respect. Think she has any real conflicts with her dad because she's a secret Jew at court? Well, he frets a lot, but that's about it. He doesn't even really mention her boy's clothing. Oh, and then he conveniently dies. Is Hannah witness to all the upheaval of court? Some of it. Then she goes to Calais and kind of hangs out for the last third of the novel. As the novel progressed, I kind of got the idea that Hannah, quite honestly, wasn't that important except for the fact that some important people liked her. There is no real dramatic payoff to her personal relationships. Heck, she even has fewer psychic flashes as the novel continues.
So is it at least romantic and/or sexy? Does she get into a hot steamy affair with the forbidden Robert Dudley, whom she mopes about for much of the book? Well, sorry to break it to you, but no. In fact, even though Daniel and Hannah are supposedly hot for each other, do we get a payoff when they finally get together? No. And why the kid? WHY THE KID? Geez, I thought I was reading the 16th century X-Files for a moment! It's not like I need every Gregory main character to be a sociopath, but who is this treacly, perfect, boring girl, and why is Gregory writing about her?
However, Gregory's other strengths are on display - good historic knowledge, seamless writing, and general page-turning inducement. It's not a terrible book, and it's certainly better than 90 percent of historic fiction. Still, I know from my reading of Gregory's oeuvre that she's an intriguing but uneven writer. This is one of the (relative) duds. Come on, Philippa, buck up - I know you've got it in you!
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on July 24, 2008
This book tells the interesting story of 2 sisters who are rivals, Queen Mary who is catholic and Elizabeth I who is protestant. Told from the interesting view of a jewish servant girl who loves both of them. Fast moving, couldn't put it down, my favorite Philippa Gregory book.
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The story is told from Hannah Green's perspective, a young Jewish girl who flees Spain with her father to escape persecution and lands in England. Hannah is a seer and has visions, a sought after talent during the troubled times for the Tudor court, she first serves King Edward, then his sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, as a holy fool. She is also a vassal to Robert Dudley who she adores. This is a very dangerous time where every action is under scrutiny and many lives are in peril due to laws against heresy, treason and witchcraft. Hannah must choose between the safe life as a commoner or being part of the extravagant life the royal family.

This novel is fast-paced, interesting and captivating from start to finish. It is clear that Ms Gregory has a talent for writing entertaining historical fiction, with engaging narrative. Her characters are seemly woven between actual and fictional ones, with all their flaws and weaknesses. The heart of this novel is the reign of Bloody Mary, Queen of England seen through the sympathetic eyes of a young woman. This is a fresh portrayal of familiar figures and a new perspective on a dark period of England's history. Serious history buffs may not like this novel, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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on February 12, 2009
"The Other Boleyn Girl" was my first Philippa Gregory book that I read and I enjoyed it so much I thought I'd go on to read more of her books, and I was glad I did. "The Queen's Fool" is another one of my favorites now. Although this book is more fiction than historical it was still a great read that I would recommend to anyone. Phillipa Gregory did a very good job creating the character Hannah the fool, you really believe as though you are there with her going through her life experiences. Very well done and packed with adventure!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon February 17, 2011
I enjoyed this book and I did find it a page turner. I learned about the history of Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth.

The author is a great story teller and what I enjoy most about her writing are the details about life in those times. They pull you in and make the story become real.

I have enjoyed The Other Boleyn Girl, The Boleyn Inheritance, and since this book I've read The Virgin's Lover. I recommend all these books and this one too.

With this book the only negative (hence the 4 star rating) is that I had trouble dealing with suspended reality about the main character, Hannah, a Jewish girl who escaped the Spanish Inquisition only to deliberately put herself in the centre of a challenging and suspicious English court. At first she was commanded to be there but after that she did everything she could to stay. It would have been believable if she also wasn't constantly afraid of being discovered to be a jew. She goes on too much about her fears yet remains there. The queen in power would offer some protection but when when things went bad Hannah still wanted a court life.

The other characters in the book, Queen Mary, Princess Elizabeth, Robert Dudley are very interesting and are well written.

Despite my struggle about the main character this book was a good read and I do recommend it.
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Of all the Philippa Gregory historical fiction I've read so far, this particular story carries with it the greatest sense of adventure and suspense that I've ever come to associate with the Tudor period. The plot covers five years in the the often incredibly tumultuous life of Hannah Green, a teen-age girl of Jewish-Spanish origins, as the court fool for the English Catholic queen, Mary Tudor. Gregory, as usual, does a meticulous job in setting the stage for Hannah's entry on the public stage. Politically, England has just come through a very tempestuous period where the state, under Edward VI, has finally taken control of the church. Prostestantism is growing in strength and Catholicism has basically gone into hiding. Out of all this, the tide suddenly turns and Mary, the only daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, a Catholic through-and-through, ascends the throne after the death of her brother. Gregory lays out a story that shows how Hannah, blessed with special insights, assumes the role of court fool and proceeds to live a precariously tight-rope existence for the next several years that protects both her jewish identity, her loyalty to her betrothed, her father's business interests, her love for Robert Dudley, her admiration for Princess Elizabeth, and her intellectual attachment to Dr. John Dee. During this journey, the reader will be introduced to a royal marriage between England and Spain, the appearance of an English form of the Inquisition, and numerous court intrigues that will lead their victims to the block. Her ability to survive all these testy moments in a nation's history is more a tribute to her political astuteness to remain always humble but forever helpful. What I enjoyed about the story the most was that the plot, while predictable in places, carried with it some very consistently strong characterizations of main personalities. At the end, the reader should be satisfied have been introduced to the court of Mary Tudor in all her fame and infamy.
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on July 3, 2004
This is another book by Philippa Gregory that occurs in the Tudor era. I won't really explan the plot because other reviewers already have quite well. I will just add my ten cents.
I have always sympathized with Mary I because of how maligned she is. She had a horrible childhood. Raised believing that she would be Queen of England, then a little baby, Elizabeth takes her place. She is bastardized, disgraced and motherless by the end of Anne Boleyn's queenship. Everyone always just assumes that she was a cruel person because of how many people she burned. In this book, Mary is given a sympathetic look as well. She is kind and Hannah is devoted to her. She loves her husband, but her younger, beautiful sister takes all of his love.

Lots of books show Elizabeth as a virgin. I have always wondered, what if she weren't? What if she were just not able to conceive? In this wonderful novel, the first chapter shows Elizabeth panting with lust and desire for Thomas Seymour. Elizabeth liked other women's husbands, and she didn't mind becoming Mary's husband's mistress. I think that Elizabeth liked feeling more desirable than other women. Being a wife just wasn't for her. Though Elizabeth does seem likeable in this book, Philippa Gregory makes her seem very much like Anne Boleyn in "The Other Boleyn Girl."

This is a very good novel. I was fixated by it and couldn't stop reading. The author is very good at depicting rivalry between sisters. I hope that Philippa Gregory writes many more Tudor novels. Are there any more sisters to be rivals? It doesn't matter. Any book by the author in the Tudor era would be excellent. "The Other Boleyn Girl," was fabulous. I reread it over and over. When I buy "The Queen's Fool," I plan to do the same. Good job, Philippa Gregory!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon June 8, 2004
This best selling English author of historical fiction has written yet another interesting work. This novel takes place during the reign of Mary Tudor, daughter of King Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon. She would leave a legacy that would cause her to be known as "Bloody Mary" for her burning of heretics.
The narrator is a girl named Hannah Green, a young teenager who has fled Spain and its Inquisition with her father, following the death of her mother. She had been burned alive at the stake as a heretic, when it was discovered that she was a "Marrano", a false Christian, that is, a Jew who has converted to Christianity but who follows the Jewish faith in secret.
Landing in London, where her father opens a book store, Hannah makes the acquaintance of a handsome rake, Sir Robert Dudley, who discovers that Hannah has the gift of sight. She develops a personal relationship with him that eventually sees her enter into Queen Mary's service as her fool. Hannah serves Queen Mary, but at the same time, is sent by the Queen to serve her half-sister the Princess Elizabeth and spy upon her.
Meanwhile, Sir Robert Dudley also uses Hannah in his treasonous plot to see the Princess Elizabeth on the throne of England. So, Hannah finds herself walking a dangerous tightrope and is fearful of discovery of her role in the political intrigues that are welling around her, as well as discovery of her own background, which would be grounds for death. Her worst fears are nearly realized when the Queen marries Prince Phillip of Spain.
In the midst of all this political intriguing that appears to be going on all around her, Hannah has her own immediate future to think about, as she becomes betrothed to another Marrano such as herself. Infatuated with Lord Dudley, loyal to both Queen Mary and the clever and manipulative Princess Elizabeth, Hannah finds herself putting her own future happiness at risk amidst the political and religious turmoil of the time.
This is a fast paced, breezy read about an independent, young woman who finds herself at a crossroad in her life and begins a voyage of self-discovery that will ultimately change her life. The story takes place in sixteenth century England, amidst all the political strife and religious upheaval of the time. The author weaves an intriguing tapestry of historical events and personages together with the intrigues that were rife in the Tudor court of the Queen who would become known as Bloody Mary.
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on June 5, 2004
With just a little too much romance to be historical novels and far too much history to be romance novels, Philippa Gregory defies categories in her two immensely readable and wonderfully informative stories of 16th century England: "The Other Boleyn Girl" and "The Queen's Fool." That she is able to saturate her novels with history is less surprising when one realizes that she has a history degree from the University of Sussex and a PhD in eighteenth-century literature from the University of Edinburgh, but that she is able to bring history to life with such apparent ease and without breaking the rhythm of her narrative is most impressive.
Mary Boleyn, Anne's sister, narrates the first, chronologically, of these two books: "The Other Boleyn Girl." She is Henry VIII's mistress and bears him two children before her more famous sister, Anne, usurps her place. Historically, that is fact, at least the first part is. Whether Anne actually connived to unseat her sister is less clear, though Gregory certainly gives a convincing case of "what-if?" Beginning with Henry's attentions to Mary, the story continues through a rumble of bedding, wedding, and ultimately Anne's beheading. Along the way Gregory paints a picture of a court in which everyone must look over his shoulder constantly, marriages are made for convenience and political alliances, and men, whether father, brother or husband, control women and use them as pawns in a risky game of power. One sister resists, the other cooperates. From the beginning, Gregory paints a picture of sisterly rivalry weighed against sisterly love. Ultimately, sisterly love wins, though the rivalry proves Anne's undoing.
Gregory continues the two themes of sisterly love and rivalry and women obeying (or not obeying, as the case may be) men in "The Queen's Fool." With the rivalry, and sometimes love, between Henry's two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth as historical background, Gregory tells the story of Hannah Green, a Jewish refuge from the Spanish Inquisition who, after seeing her mother burned at the stake, flees with her father to England where he sets up shop as a bookseller. Hannah, who narrates the tale, has the gift of "sight", that is, she has visions that come unbidden and reveal the future to her. It is one of those visions that, early in the story, lands her in court during the short reign of Edward VI and, after his death, leaves her as a pawn batted back and forth between Mary and Elizabeth. Hannah has the ability to see the best in both and, as much as possible, is loyal to both, no mean feat given that each princess see herself as destined for the throne of England. To complicate matters, Hannah is betrothed to another Jewish refuge, who like her, must keep his ancestry a secret. She is torn between her desire for independence and her passion for her intended husband. How she eventually reconciles the two is the meat of the novel.
Gregory's narrative is engrossing, her conversations engaging. Among her previous fourteen books is a trilogy that includes "Wideacre", "The Favored Child" and "Meridon." Dare we hope that she will follow "The Other Boleyn Girl" and "The Queen's Fool" with a third partner, focusing on Elizabeth?
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on May 11, 2004
Love and betrayal follow this book into one of the most dazzling, dangerous, and chaotic courts of Europe in the 1500's: the Tudor court of England. We follow Hannah Green, a young Spanish girl who is Jewish but pretending to be Christian, to the side of young King Edward, Queen Mary, and ultimately Elizabeth.
Hannah Verde (or Green) has fled the Inquisition with her father because her mother was unfortunate enough to be burned at the stake. But, nothing has prepared Hannah for the life that she will lead in England. From the moment she lays eyes on Robert Dudley (son of the most powerful man in England,) she is smitten. Hannah is no ordinary girl though, and this is the most interesting part of the author's writing style. All of the historical facts given to tell the story are told through Hannah's gift, the Sight. This is the gift that gives the remarkable ability to be able to see into the future, and all of her predictions do come to pass. This is what catches the eye of young Lord Robert and brings her to court. She had seen an angel behind him and from here on she would become a fool to the young king, and later on become a priceless companion and holy seer to the Queen Mary, and dear friend to Queen Elizabeth.
Although the book is fictional many of the events that go on throughout the story really did occur. I loved the author's poetic way of expressing Hannah's feelings while combining them with historical accuracy all in one. One of my favorite visions that Hannah had was when she predicts the fate of both Mary and her sister Elizabeth. The words that the author uses while the Sight speaks through Hannah are both vivid and touching.
The main character Hannah is extremely complex which is what I love about this book. She is torn between love and loyalty. She is in love with Robert Dudley, she loves and is loyal to the queen, and like everyone else, she is drawn to the Princess Elizabeth. One of the interesting things about this book though, is that Mary was made to look like a martyr and a completely misunderstood woman, whereas Elizabeth is shown for cruel and selfish side and ambition that got her to the throne.
Another excellent quality of this book is that it shows what went on during the reigns of Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth outside of court life. In fact, we even learn of life in Calais, a city in Europe owned by the English. Besides having a life at court, Hannah is also betrothed to young man called David whom she loves dearly. He is pressing her to leave court because the Inquisition is now in Catholic England, and they are both Jewish. But once again, although Hannah loves Daniel a lot, she loves the Queen Mary and is very loyal to her, so she cannot leave her.
Hannah does end up having to leave to Calais, but soon returns to England and her dear Queen Mary. This was the rather exciting part of the novel and it takes place in Calais. It is here that we witness the war that Phillip of Spain dragged England into and drained her treasury with. It was rather fascinating seeing as how Philippa Gregory is very vivid and descriptive with her words.
This book was very enjoyable to read and rather touching. It had something for everyone. It is highly recommended for those interested in the Tudor Era or the lives of English people in the 1500's. Philippa Gregory is an excellent author and I highly recommend any of her books, and especially this one.
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