Skip to main content

Review: The Queen's Governess, by Karen Harper


Pages: 368
Original publication date: 2010
My edition: 2010 (Putnam)
Why I decided to read: I've enjoyed Karen Harper's other books in the past
How I acquired my copy: ARC sent via the publisher
The Queen’s Governess is the story of Kat Ashley (nee Champernowne), governess to Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth I. Kat, like the Tudors and Boleyns (and Thomas Cromwell, for that matter), literally came from nowhere, plucked from obscurity by Thomas Cromwell and placed in the household of Anne Boleyn. The Tudor court was full of self-made men and women, and Kat became one of those who fought for her reputation in a place when one’s position there was uncertain. Kat Ashley became the Princess’s governess in 1537, eventually becoming one of Elizabeth’s closest confidants and First Lady of the Bedchamber. The novel opens when Kat is a young girl and meets Thomas Cromwell by fortuitous chance, and closes when Elizabeth becomes Queen.

I wanted to like this novel better than I did. Karen Harper certainly knows her period—the 16th century—and her dialogue and characters seem mostly authentic (the exception being Thomas Seymour, who comes across as a lot worse than I think he really was, and Kat herelf, which I’ll explain in a bit). Unfortunately, this didn’t really translate into a really good story for me. It’s sort of hard for me to see what the focus of the novel is—is it Kat, whose life wasn’t really all that interesting (even her romance with John Ashley is underplayed), or is it the story of Elizabeth, who doesn’t get all that much on-screen time?

Sometimes I felt as though this novel read like a recitation of facts, not fiction based upon facts; and I felt that the novel jumped around a lot in time. Maybe, if the novel had been a bit longer, it might have allowed the author to go more in depth with the plot. Also, I didn’t really buy the idea that Thomas Cromwell used Kat Ashley as one of his spies—though, of course, knowing what Cromwell was like, it could very likely have happened as not. The novel portray Kat Ashley as a bit of an innocent, but I believe that she must not have been entirely scrupulous, as it took a certain amount of wiliness to survive in the Tudor court. In comparison with some of Harper’s other books, I would rate this slightly below Mistress Shakespeare. It’s not Karen Harper’s best novel, but as usual, she’s definitely done her research.

Comments

Serena said…
Sounds like the author knows her facts, but in this case executed them poorly as fiction. Thanks for the honest review.
Daphne said…
I've been looking forward to reading this one but maybe I'll get it from the library. I did read her book on Mary Boleyn (Passion's Reign a/k/a The Last Boleyn) which I really liked.
Misfit said…
I'm still waiting to see if the library picks it up. I see that Harriet gave it five stars today so it must be great right?
I just sort of skimmed your review because I have this book to review too, but I'm sorry you didn't like it. I really enjoyed "Mistress Shakespeare" last year, so I'm hoping this one works for me too.

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is an old dotard, her third locks her up in the house for days and won't let her out; and the last is a fop who a…

Review: This Rough Magic, by Mary Stewart

Pages: 254Original date of publication: 1964My edition: 1964 (William Morrow)Why I decided to read: it was 90 degrees outside at the time and I decided it was time to read another book by a favorite authorHow I acquired my copy: from Susanna Kearsley, December 2009Sometimes, whether or not I decide to read a book depends on the weather. Mary Stewart’s books are best read on either very hot or very cold days; and since it was 90 degrees out one weekend a couple of weeks ago, I decided that this one would be perfect. And it was.This Rough Magic takes its title from The Tempest, a play from which this novel takes off. Lucy Waring is a struggling actress who comes to visit her sister on Corfu. One of her neighbors is a renowned actor who’s taken a bit of a sabbatical and his son, a musician with whom Lucy comes to blows at first. This Rough Magic is vintage Mary Stewart, with a murder or two, a mystery, romance, suspense, and lots of magic thrown in. Lucy is your typical Mary Stewart hero…

Review: Joy in the Morning, by Betty Smith

Pages: 294
Original date of publication: 1963
My edition: 2010 (Harper Perennial)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, Phoenix, January 2011


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my all-time favorite books and I’ve read it, oh, half a dozen times, so I was interested to see how Joy in the Morning would compare.

Set in the late 1920s, Joy in the Morning begins when Annie, aged 18, comes to a small Midwestern college town where her fiancĂ©e, Carl, is in law school. The novel opens with their marriage in the county courthouse, and follows the couple through their first year or so of marriage. It’s a struggle, because Carl and Annie are basically children themselves, for all the ways in which Carl tries to appear more adult-like.

Annie is endearing; she’s ignorant but a voracious reader, reading everything from Babbitt to War and Peace. Betty Smith’s novels are pretty autobiographical; Joy in the Morning is (unofficially) a kind of sequel to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—cert…