read by Maggie Mash
This book has the subtitle (visible on the print copy) of "A Novel of Tudor Rivals and the Secret of the Tower." Historian Alison Weir uses the ongoing mystery of what happened to the "Princes in the Tower," the young sons of Edward IV of England, as the thread to tie together two stories of two royal women born about 70 years apart.
Lady Katherine Grey (1540-1568) narrates her story in first person. She is the sister of Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days Queen, subject of another Weir novel, Innocent Traitor. Katherine has a rather sad, short life, under the constant suspicion of her jealous cousin, Queen Elizabeth I - as Katherine also has a claim to the throne.
The other story is told in third person, and is about Katherine "Kate" Plantagenet, the illegitimate daughter of Richard III. The connection is that Kate was married to William Herbert, who is distantly related to Katherine's first husband (in a non-consummated marriage), Henry, Lord Herbert. Katherine finds a portrait of Kate in the Herbert family home, as well as a pendant and packet of letters by her (all fictional).
In the letters, Kate tries to puzzle out what happened to the Princes in the Tower, desperately wanting to believe her father had no part in their murder. Katherine whiles away many of the hours of her imprisonment pursuing the same quest.
Very little is known about Kate Plantagenet - only the fact that she married William Herbert in 1484. No one knows when she was born or died, and she apparently had no children. This gives Weir lots of room to build a fictional life for one heroine, going so far as to imagine Kate was in love with her first cousin, John de la Pole, first Earl of Lincoln, who was loyal to her father.
As for Katherine Grey, in her ending author's note, Weir states, "I have adhered closely to the facts where they are known, although I have taken some dramatic license" (page 499). There's a third point-of-view in the book as well - the latter half of the story has numerous "interludes" with scenes with Elizabeth, which Weir says "are there to show Elizabeth's point of view; without them, she comes across as a cruel persecutor" (of Katherine; page 500). However, these scenes don't change my conclusion that Elizabeth was extremely harsh towards her rather foolish kinswoman.
I listened to most of the audiobook, which is 21 discs (25 hours, 41 minutes) long. The book is read far too slowly - I had to return it to the library before I was able to complete it. Narrator Maggie Mash does a good job with young female voices, especially Katherine Grey. However, the males she voices are frequently too loud, as if they were shouting. There are also a lot of long and unusual pauses throughout the narration. This is the first book I've listened to read by Maggie Mash, so I am not sure if that is her typical way, or if she was directed to read the book so slowly.
Nevertheless, I had to finish the book with the print version, which has some useful genealogical charts at the beginning, to help the reader keep the characters straight. This was an interesting book about two lesser-known women from British history.
© Amanda Pape - 2013
[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my public library.]