For my recent birthday, I got an Amazon gift certificate. Thrifty girl that I am, I spent most of it on used books, and my acquisitions have been rolling in gradually over the past couple of weeks.
First to arrive was a 1962 historical novel, The Reluctant Queen by Molly Costain Haycraft, about Henry VIII’s sister Mary (not to be confused with The Reluctant Queen by Jean Plaidy, about Richard III’s queen, Anne Neville). Haycraft, as you might know or have guessed, was the daughter of popular historian and novelist Thomas Costain.
Unfortunately, this book didn’t give me much bang for my birthday buck. About two-thirds of the novel, which ends with Mary’s marriage to Charles Brandon, is concerned with Mary’s life before she marries the French king, and although there are a few nice scenes between Mary and her brother, the main focus–the developing love affair between Mary and Charles Brandon–just isn’t that interesting. It’s the usual story–the lovers get jealous of each other’s admirers, have a tiff or two, realize their love, declare their love, and then are separated by mean Harry. Once Mary becomes Queen of France, the book doesn’t improve much, though I had a glimpse of hope when little Anne Boleyn appeared on the scene. Unfortunately, her appearance was only a cameo one, as was Jane Seymour’s. Even the lecherous Francis doesn’t liven up the novel as much as he should. Charles Brandon must have been quite the charmer, but it doesn’t come through here, I’m afraid. He and Mary are personable and attractive, but not much more than that, and as a result the book just never lit up for me.
I’ve read two other books by Haycraft, King’s Daughters, about the daughters of Edward I and especially his daughter Elizabeth, and The Lady Royal, about Isabella, daughter of Edward III, and found them to be more entertaining than this one. Perhaps the difference lies in that these books dealt with relatively obscure people, and thus weren’t retreading familiar ground, whereas Mary and Brandon’s story has been told many times, requiring anyone who writes about them yet again to display more pizazz than was exhibited here.
All in all, a pleasant enough love story, but not something I’d recommend tracking down except for lovers of all things Tudor.
Speaking of which, I’m debating whether to buy the forthcoming Philippa Gregory novel or just to wait my turn at the library. Those who have read it seem to prefer it over her earlier novels, which I didn’t really care for, so perhaps I’ll take the plunge.