Friday, May 19, 2006

The Spanish Bride - Laurien Gardner [May/06]

This novel begins the series that will eventually include a look at the six women that would be the wives of Henry VIII. This first novel looks at Catherine of Aragon, his first wife. She was originally from Spain, thus why she was known as the "Spanish Bride". The first novel I ever read about her was The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory. So, I was interested to see how other novelists would portray a woman that genuinely loved her husband, but was set aside for a younger model and a hope for an heir. It of course did not work out, their daughter, Mary, would eventually take the throne but Henry was determined and took five other wives in the hopes of getting what he wanted.

The novel is not told from the point of view of Catherine, though. If it was entirely about her, it would not be very interesting. Most people who would bother with a novel based on the monarch are aware of her story, so Gardnier did a smart thing but including information that would offset the attention from Catherine alone.

On the back of the book:

Catherine of Aragon treasured the romantic ideal of the chivalic kinght in shining armor. Believing she'd married one, she surrendered her fate to a monarch whose treatment of his wives would make him notorious...

Estrella de Montoya is maid of honor to Catherine of Aragon, the Spanish princess betrothed to Arthur, Prince of Wales. Traveling away from home for the first time, Estrella shares her mistress's vision of England as a land of chivalric knights and courtly love. Her heart flutters at the bright prospects before them, as the English rejoice at Catherine's arrival.

Decades later, Estrella has learned from bitter experiences that poetic legends are not to be confused with real life. But Catherine, long married to Arthur's brother Henry, clings to her illusions - even when Henry, desperate for a male heir, seeks to set her aside for a younger woman. At great danger to herself, Estrella remains loyal to her lady, the true queen.

Through it all, Estrella remains uniquely postitioned to witness Catherine's triumphs and tragedies as they both risk everything against a king to whom human life - let alone chivalry - is nothing compared to his own personal desires...

I had wanted to read more novels about the queens that were the wives of Henry VIII. Whether people will like this book or not depends on your perspective. If you are reading it to learn more about Catherine, I found the information similar to things that I have heard or read before. It is more a novel to read to learn about court life and what it was like to be a lady in waiting for the displaced queen. It follows Catherine's life, of course, but at the same time you see the other sides to the court. This book better showed to me how Mary taked after her mother, they were both very strong in their religious ideals. They came out a great deal in this novel.

The novel has some crossing over, with Anne Boelyn's execution being one of the scenes at the end of the novel and also showing her as a member of Catherine's court. I was disappointed, though, by the lack of action in the novel. Things happened in it, but the central stages to the novel was Catherine waiting to be queen and then her confinement when she was displaced. It hardly looks at when she was actually the queen because the narrator, Estrella, was not present at the court during this time.

On average, it was a good novel, but like I stated above, it lacked action which made it rather dry and hard to get into. I have the next novel in the series, about Anne Boelyn, will be curious not only how they betray Anne but also if there is more action in the novel.


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