I’m too busy (or too lazy) to post full reviews of some of the books I’ve been reading lately, but I wanted to mention them at least:
The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran. This is the story of Nefertari, whose aunt’s story was told in Moran’s first novel, Nefertiti. As the niece of the deceased and disgraced Nefertiti, Nefertari has grown up as an outcast in the royal palace, but she is determined to marry her childhood friend, the future Ramesses the Great, and win the love of the people. The royal palace, however, is rife with enemies and plotting, and the people are none too happy about Ramesses’ choosing Nefertari as his bride. Adding to the plot is one Ahmoses, who is determined to enlist Nefertari’s help in getting his people out of Egypt.
Like its predecessor, this was an enjoyable, fast-paced, and well written novel, with an engaging and likable heroine (who narrates the novel). Nefertari is saved from being too perfect by her self-doubts and her occasional blunder, and her having to come to terms with her family’s history adds more depth to her character. It’s a keeper.
The Green Salamander by Pamela Hill. This is the story of Margaret Douglas, niece to Henry VIII, who famously was cast into the Tower three times for love matters. Told in the third person, the novel follows Margaret from girlhood to old age. Though the paperback version I read has a bodice-popping cover of a beautiful Margaret being embraced by a handsome courtier, it’s grossly misleading, as there’s no sex and very little romance in this novel.
Unfortunately, though Margaret’s life makes for an interesting story, I found that most of the characters here never really came alive for me. Margaret’s first two love interests, Thomas Howard and Charles Howard, are little more than mannequins, which is especially unfortunate since Margaret suffers so much for her romances with them. Her husband Matthew Lennox (whose son with Margaret, Darnley, marries Mary, Queen of Scots) is somewhat more vivid, but since he and Margaret are often apart, he too remains somewhat shadowy. We never get to know Darnley very well either. Margaret herself, though she exhibits courage and stamina throughout the novel, never really engaged me. All in all, while it was good to see a novelist tackle Margaret’s story, I think I’d like to see someone else have a go at it.
Jean Plaidy, Madame Serpent. About time I read another Plaidy, huh? This is the first book of Plaidy’s trilogy about Catherine de Medici, and is not what I’d call uplifting. Catherine has a miserable childhood among her sinister relations in Italy until she is sent to France to marry the lecherous king’s second son, Henry. Though Catherine longs for the affections of her second husband, he is in thrall to his beautiful, older mistress, Diane de Poitiers.
Plaidy keeps Catherine marginally sympathetic as she slowly changes from a naive girl to a ruthless woman, but this was rather a gloomy read without any characters that one could root for. This was written in 1951; since then, Leonie Frieda has written a biography of Catherine that shows her in rather a more balanced light. I understand that C. W. Gortner has a novel about her scheduled for publication next year; I’m looking forward to it.
Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James Swanson. This book, about the assassination of Lincoln and the pursuit of his killer, is nonfiction, and it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year–indeed, it’s given me an urge to step outside of medieval England for my next novel. Aside from Swanson’s day-by-day account of the assassination and the aftermath, it was fascinating to learn that John Wilkes Booth inspired his own survival myth–years after he was shot by federal troops, there were Booth pretenders who claimed to have survived the events of 1865. Even if you’re not particularly interested in this period of history, this is a book that makes for a fascinating read.