Captain Tuttle’s #CBR5 Review #32 – The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

Lots of driving over the past week or so. Tampa to West Palm to Miami to Tampa to Orlando to Miami to West Palm to Tampa. Lots of time on my ass. Lots of time to listen to a very long story. That’s pretty much how I pick my books on CD – driving time. Since I was going to be in the car for a crap-ton of time, I knew I could go long. The last time I had lots of driving to do, I tried Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. Who knew that the audiobook could be even more boring than the actual book?! So this time I decided to go pulp fiction. Well, pulp historical fiction.

We all know Philippa Gregory from such books as The Other Boleyn Girl, The Boleyn Inheritance, and other Tudor bodice rippers. The books we all hate to say we read (or listen to) and enjoy; total guilty pleasures. This book is no different. It’s about Mary, Queen of Scots (the “other” to Elizabeth I) during the time she was captive (guest?) in England after the whole Scotland debacle (Darnley murdered, Mary kidnapped and probably raped by Lord Bothwell, also maybe married to him and carrying twins). So Elizabeth puts Mary with one of her most loyal Lords, George, Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife Bess of Hardwick. Bess is an interesting historical figure that I had never heard of until listening to this book – I will definitely be looking into her more.

Anyway, there’s a lot here. Mary is semi-guest, semi-captive, sorta-queen, and is either staying with or jailed by the Shrewsburys. The story is told from the points of view of Mary, George, and Bess; which makes things very interesting, because Gregory has done the research to be able to talk about the exact same incident from three very different points of view, and she makes it sound plausible. Mary is vain, and fully believes that she is magic, untouchable, and ordained by her (catholic) god to rule. Bess is the daughter of a farmer who knows the value of a dollar (pound) and the value of land. Shrewsbury is of the old guard, landed gentry, his family has served the monarch (no matter who it is) for generations. Honor is all for Shrewsbury; safety is all for Bess (financial safety, that is); power and ruling is all for Mary.

There were a lot of passages at which I rolled my eyes, and most of those belonged to Mary. I would hope that a woman who could have ruled three countries (France, Scotland and England) wouldn’t have been such a determined flirt who used men and depended on them for the source of her power. Bess was more my style, an actual self-made woman who was considerably more clever than most of the people around her. According to the story (and from what I’ve gleaned from wikipedia), the “honor” of being responsible for Queen Mary bankrupted the Shrewsburys.

The people reading the story on the audiobook were all excellent actors, they really brought the characters to life. I’m not sure how I would feel about this in actual book form, but the audiobook kept me entertained and awake for my very long drives.