Evans (Deadly Reunion, 2011, etc.) creatively imagines the private life of Mary Rose Tudor in this richly textured historical novel.
The English Tudors’ royal history is dominated by a cast of terrifying, imposing characters; the larger-than-life figures of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, for example, provide plenty of fuel for the contemporary imagination. As a result, authors often disregard such intriguing personalities as Princess Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s favorite sister, and Evans seeks to rectify this oversight. As this novel opens, Mary is having a heated discussion with her brother, the king, who has just announced that she will wed Louis XII of France, an ailing monarch who’s more than 30 years her senior. Mary is vehemently opposed to this decision and confronts Henry in a tone with which no subject would dare address a sovereign: “No, I won’t marry that feeble, pocky old man.” The author’s forte is her ability to reach beyond historians’ accounts and imagine such intimate moments. As the novel develops, she constructs an elaborate psychological profile of Mary; readers learn about how she recoils at the thought of touching Louis’ clammy skin and of her horror when she finds out that the French king let many of his subjects die in order not to disturb a ball held in her honor. After her marriage, the story focuses on the young queen’s complex relationships with the French royal family. It also addresses Mary’s desires as a woman—namely, her love for Charles Brandon, one of Henry VIII’s courtiers. After Louis’ death, Mary and Charles marry in secret. When Henry finds out, he forgives Charles, but the marriage soon weighs heavily on the newlyweds and changes the nature of their relationship. Much later, Mary has a difficult time with her eldest daughter, Frances, which adds to her torment as she pines for her son, Henry, who died at an early age. Traditionalists may recoil at the novel’s subtly contemporary edge, but it succeeds in reanimating an overlooked period of Tudor history.
A thoroughly researched, elegantly written historical tale.