Oh dear. I’ve done it again. I picked up a Philippa Gregory “historical” novel and only have myself to blame for reading it.
As usual, Gregory’s gifted us with a book that’s historical nonsense (unless you count being based on an account from the 1960s as accurate). Other than having a hilariously bad scene where Catherine of Aragorn craves “salad”, Gregory decided to make her first marriage to Arthur far more significant. Which could have been potentially interesting- except that it muddied her motivations and was poorly executed. In attempt to make things interesting, Gregory decided to shorten the lifespan of an already short-lived romance by squeezing in a badly done enemies-to-lovers subplot. Since they are only together for such a short time, it’s hard to be invested in this supposedly great love affair that overshadows the rest of Catherine’s life. It’s even more daft that this motivates her want to be queen, because Arthur’s dying wish is for her to marry his 10-year-old brother?! Aside from how unbelievable this all is, it actually takes away the sting of Henry’s later betrayal, since it’s repeatedly made clear she never loved him anyway and was only using him to be queen. It would have been far more powerful for her to be telling the truth- but then we wouldn’t have had a trademark terrible heroine to despise throughout the course of the book.
Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how *utterly awful* Catherine is as a character. I’m not saying the historical figure was particularly likeable, but jeez. When she’s not praying to her lost love for guidance, she’s harping on about how she deserves power because it’s “god’s will”. There’s no actual reason beyond that, no depth and nothing to root for. She is simply a power hungry, warmongering coloniser with an appetite for spilling Moorish blood.
Which, incidentally, brings me to Gregory’s brand of feminism: the kind where the best kind of woman is the worst kind of man. To use the woke phrase, as it’s rather fitting for a change, all she displays is toxic masculinity. Catherine is a meddlesome bore begging for holy wars, with a violent streak a mile long, seeking to dominate anyone and everyone. There is not a single trait that makes her likeable. It’s astounding to me that Mantell could take a historical figure like Cromwell and make you love him- and yet Gregory could do the inverse to Catherine of Aragorn (but then Gregory is no Mantell).
If all this isn’t enough to put you off, there’s also the problem of the plot being all over the place. Again, to use an unfavourable comparison, Mantell managed to beautifully craft a story that spanned decades, cleverly building to a deliciously clever destination. With this, you get a plot that’s got no focus, feels disjointed and fails to come together. This book manages to make one of the most famous divorces of all time duller than dishwater. It’s a sloppy structure not worthy of the story it’s telling.
And naturally there’s also some vomit-inducing scenes with the king lusting after his daughter-in-law. Because this is history with the icky bits added in. Whatever would make the grossest version of events has to be there- this is a Philippa Gregory book after all.
It’s no wonder Gregory put me off historical fic for so long. I don’t know why she has it in for history and must make up the worst possible versions of it- but there you go. This was not remotely enjoyable- but on the plus side it’s not her worst book- and that’s saying something!
Rating: 1/5 bananas
Oof- dare I ask- have you read this book? Did you like it? Were you as bored as me? Let me know in the comments!