Sunday, June 1, 2014

Review: Sisters of Treason

Sisters of TreasonSisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Elizabeth Fremantle’s Sisters of Treason, to be published July 8th, is a solid piece of historical fiction that highlights love and treachery in the complex Tudor court. Fremantle’s latest novel considers the perilous lives of Katherine and Mary Grey, sisters with a claim to the English throne as strong as that of their cousin Queen Elizabeth I. Fremantle brings to the table strong and interesting Elizabethan women characters, and offers a unique look at the perception of disability in 16th century England.

Fremantle opens her novel with the compelling scene of the execution of Lady Jane Grey, the ill-fated teenage girl who ruled England for only nine days. Jane’s sisters, Lady Katherine and Lady Mary, are at risk of the same fate during the turbulent and bloody reign of their cousin Mary Tudor. Passionate Katherine seeks only to find love and to forget the executions of her father and elder sister. Her clever sister Mary, born with a crooked spine at a time when physical deformity was suspected as the Devil’s work, is kept like a pet by the child-less and increasingly delusional Queen Mary.

When cunning and capricious Elizabeth I ascends to the throne, she perceives her Grey cousins as potential threats to her rule. The Grey sisters’ Tudor blood, which should have secured their position in Elizabeth’s court as well as in the line of royal succession, instead proves a curse. With the help of the court painter Levina Teerlinc, who becomes a sympathetic friend to the Grey sisters, Katherine and Mary seek to survive in a world where the wrong move will send them to the Tower of London, and perhaps to a traitor’s death.

Sisters of Treason is thoroughly researched and hews closely to the historical record, like Fremantle’s previous novel about Katherine Parr, Queen’s Gambit. Fremantle has a knack for rescuing lesser-known Tudor characters from obscurity, thus carving out a niche for herself in the over-crowded realm of Tudor fiction. Fremantle ably and sensitively addresses Mary’s physical deformity, and the result is a truly interesting perspective on what life may have been like for the disabled during the period. In her novels, Fremantle includes interesting and finely-observed details about the lives of non-royal characters, which help provide a contrast to the finery and overstuffed nature of court life. Although the plot contains much intrigue and suspense, the novel isn’t as gripping as perhaps it could have been, and at times the pace seemed a bit uneven.

I found Sisters of Treason to be a satisfying read overall. It will be pleasing to fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, although it doesn’t reach the heights of Hilary Mantel’s masterpieces Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Fremantle has secured a place for herself in the canon of Tudor historical fiction, and her next foray will be eagerly anticipated.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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