Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle

*I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley*

"Sisters of Treason" by Elizabeth Fremantle tells the story of Lady Jane Grey's younger sisters, Katherine and Mary in the years following Jane's coronation and subsequent execution. Their story is interwoven with Levina Teerlinc's, who is the court painter.
The point the novel is trying to make is to show how royal blood is  less of a blessing and more of a curse, especially in Tudor times: the lives of the three Grey sisters are destroyed by it, and they are not the only ones, as this is the case also with both Mary I and Elizabeth I. 
The writing and pacing are quite good, even though the book dragged for a bit in the second half.
The novel focuses heavily on the characters, and, as such, it's made or broken by them. 
The eldest sister, Jane, who only features in one scene before being killed, is quite unbelievable as a character. She is much too perfect, no one ever remembers her doing anything wrong or questionable. For years her sister Mary asked herself what Jane would do when she was in need of advice. Of course, Jane's flawlessness might be because the people close to her are so blinded by grief that they make a saint out of her to deal with their loss. This would have been really interesting, but there was nothing to suggest that to the reader, I'm just speculating.
The second-born sister, Katherine, was one of the three POV characters, along with Mary Grey and Levina Teerlinc. She is depicted as a beautiful, lively girl, driven mostly by love, who defies the queen one too many times and ends up having her life destroyed. Her slow descent into madness is depicted very well: the fact that she is far more frail than she likes to admit is shown from her very first appearance, as she tries to drive her grief away by focusing obsessively on her love life. 
Katherine's capacity for love is, at least in the mind of the other characters, both her greatest weakness and her greatest strength, but it seemed to me that she was in love with herself first and foremost, anyone else comes second. This is shown clearly in her relationship with Juno, Katherine's best friend,  lover and eventual sister-in-law. Katherine and Juno look very much alike, and one of the things Katherine likes about being with Juno is the fact that she can imagine being with herself instead - how self-centered is that? 
Additionally, since Katherine was built up to be in love with Juno first, and her brother Hertford second, I couldn't really get into the forbidden love story between him and Katherine. Hertford seemed like a second-best choice for Katherine, the closest thing to marrying is sister that was socially acceptable.   
Mary, the youngest Grey sister, was the best-developped out of the members of her family. She is crook-backed and a midget, so people think her the work of the devil. For that reason, she spends much of the first part of the book behaving impeccably, as she has to work harder than anyone else to show that she is not wicked. 
She is very smart and sharp-witted and she is capable of using her abilities in her favor and to help her family, and she is brave, risking much in order to protect those she loves, which makes are selfless, as well. She's quite politically savvy, as well. And she is a kind creature at heart. 
That being said, she isn't completely devoid of faults, which makes me appreciate her character even more: she is spiteful, she is vindictive, she is a bit childish sometimes. 
Levina Teerlinc, the court painter and the third POV character, was one of my favorite characters in the whole book: she is a skilled painter and makes a career out of it, despite the fact that it's Tudor times and she is a woman. She earns more than her husband does and it's thanks to her work that her family can lead a luxurious life.
As she is not even a member of the peerage, much less of royal blood, Levina's story has nothing to do with how royal blood is a curse. The trials she faces are brought on by her own choices.  
One of the things I liked about her is that she knows that her actions have consequences. She realizes what risks her choices entail. She puts her marriage in jeopardy because her husband thinks her too incautious, but I think that she is brave more than foolish. She knows perfectly well what the stakes are and she still acts, she still does what she has to do for her faith and for her friends. This makes her a much stronger character than Katherine, who is only capable of coping if she pushes the consequences and implications of her actions out of her mind, whose optimism, which her sister Mary admires so much, is not optimism at all, rather the result of her self-deceit. 
All in all, I do think that this book is worth reading. I especially recommend it if you are a fan of the Tudor period, as it explores some of the less well-known figures from that time.

1 comment:

  1. A lot of people romanticize this era, but it was a perilous time. I really would not wish to have been alive then.
    Thanks for visiting Crazy Town in Looney Land.