72. THE KING’S CURSE, BY PHILIPPA GREGORY (Book 6 of The Cousin’s War)
This is the latest (but maybe not the last) installment in The Counsin’s War series. I read the previous books, of course (otherwise I wouldn’t be reading this one), but many of them more because I wanted to finish the series than because I really wanted to read them. In fact, I disliked most of them, The Red Queen being the exception, and even then more because I was fascinated with the historical figure of Margaret Beaufort than because of Gregory’s literary capacities. I considered not reading this one, but I had already read five other books, I might as well read another one.
Synopsis: Told from Margaret Pole’s point of view, the book tells the story of King Henry VIII’s life, from his childhood to his death.
Overall enjoyment: Actually, I was pleasantly surprised. I don’t know if it is because I read the other books one after the other, but waited almost a year to read this one, but it seemed much better than the rest. I still wouldn’t go as far as to say this is a good book, since most of the problems that made me dislike the previous books are still present in this one, but I have the impression they’re not as prevalent.
Plot: Like in the previous books, there is some frustration of expectation. She builds up suspense for a particular event, like a battle, for instance, and she raises the stakes immensely, but then she brushes it aside without a conclusion, just making a note, in passing, that her son came back. If she didn’t want to give the battle importance, she shouldn’t have raised the expectations; if Margaret only cared about her son coming back, then then the suspense should have revolved around her son’s life and not the battle’s political consequences. Gregory is also a big fan of having her characters talk about crucial plot points as a way to make them clear to the reader, and I’ve always found that infinitely annoying (although, once again, I had the impression that it didn’t happen as much as it did on previous books).
Characters: One thing that has really bothered me in this entire series is her bias towards the York family. Everyone from the York family is saintly good, with all the virtues: good looks, intelligence, honor, bravery. Everyone from the Neville/Tudor family is the polar oposite: ugly, stupid, coward, selfish, greedy. Even in The Red Queen, which was narrated from Margaret Beaufort’s point of view and, therefore, should have been more generous to herself and her family, you can clearly see this bias; she goes out of her way to make Margaret seem greedy, stupid and selfish. She’s always talking about “the York good looks”, the “York honor”, the “York honesty”; all the time implying that the other side of the family does not have any of those characteristics. These are real people, who actually existed, and yet they are completely unbelievable, both in their goodness and evilness. (Also, what does Gregory have against the Tudors, for Christ’s sake?)
World/setting: Throughout the book, you get the impression that she’s dumbing things down. That’s the only explanation for why she repeats things so much (she probably doesn’t expect her readers to remember them). Or why she insists on the Tudor-bad/York-good dichotomy (she probably thinks her readers couldn’t understand a more complex relationship). And she uses a very modern language in a book supposedly set in the 16th century. The costumes and traditions are also very modern. The story feels like a bunch of 21st century people playing medieval.
Writing style: WHY DO YOU HAVE TO REPEAT EVERYTHING 50 THOUSAND TIMES??? I AM PERFECTLY CAPABLE OF REMEMBERING THINGS! ESPECIALLY THINGS YOU’VE JUST SAID IN THE LAST PARAGRAPH!
Representation: Nonexistent, as you would have expected.
Political correctness: There is a lot that bothers me in here. She commits so many blunders in her Tudor/York dichotomy it’s even hard to keep track. She slut-shames shamelessly when talking about Anne Boleyn and other lovers Henry might have had. She’s incredibly disrespectful to Margaret Beaufort’s memory; I would have no problem with people saying she was greedy and selfish (although I would never say that, she just wanted power to herself, like men get, instead of being content with getting power through her husband, as would be accepted for a woman) but trying to imply she was stupid? REALLY?
And what is so wrong with a woman wanting to rule? Gregory seems to be absolutely against it. She vilifies Margaret Beaufort, and even invents a completely unnecessary scene where Katherine of Aragon reluctantly promises her husband (who she loves desperately, in spite of knowing him for less than 6 months) IN HIS DEATH BED that she will do all she can to be the Queen of England. So, the only justifiable motive a woman could have to want to be queen is if she promises her beloved husband? Otherwise she’s as despicable and greedy as she shows Margaret Beaufort to be?
And then we get a very long-winded Author’s Note where Gregory (repeatedly!) claims to be a feminist writer... Please.
Up next: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee