Thursday, October 9, 2014

Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: May 30, 2014

From the author of Queen’s Gambit, which People magazine called, “A must-read for Philippa Gregory fans,” a gripping historical novel about two sisters who tread as dangerously close to the crown as their tragic sister, Lady Jane Grey, executed after just nine days on the throne. Early in Mary Tudor’s turbulent reign, Lady Catherine and Lady Mary Grey are reeling after the brutal execution of their elder seventeen-year-old sister, Lady Jane Grey, and the succession is by no means stable. In Sisters of Treason, Elizabeth Freemantle brings these young women to life in a spellbinding Tudor tale of love and politics. Neither sister is well suited to a dangerous life at court. Flirtatious Lady Catherine, thought to be the true heir, cannot control her compulsion to love and be loved. Her sister, clever Lady Mary, has a crooked spine and a tiny stature in an age when physical perfection equates to goodness—and both girls have inherited the Tudor blood that is more curse than blessing. For either girl to marry without royal permission would be a potentially fatal political act. It is the royal portrait painter, Levina Teerlinc, who helps the girls survive these troubled times. She becomes their mentor and confidante, but when the Queen’s sister, the hot-headed Elizabeth, inherits the crown, life at court becomes increasingly treacherous for the surviving Grey sisters. Ultimately each young woman must decide how far she will go to defy her Queen, risk her life, and find the safety and love she longs for.

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I was eager to get my hands on Elizabeth Fremantle's Sisters of Treason. I read The Queen's Rivals last year and while I enjoyed Purdy's take on the Grey sisters, the book lacked the gravitas I crave. I needed something I could sink my teeth into, something with a little more meat on the bone if you get my meaning. 

Fremantle caught my attention with Queen Gambit, but I'll be honest, I think her sophomore release stronger than its predecessor. There is an urgency and weight to the story, an imperativeness to the decisions Catherine and Mary must make, a tension that captivates even those who know the history of the younger Grey girls and anticipate where the narrative is headed.

Tone is not the only thing that stands out when reflecting on this piece. Jane, the traditional headliner, has a very interesting role in the narrative. She appears briefly early on, but her memory is a character in and of itself, guiding her sisters from beyond the grave. The same originality is echoed in Fremantle's interpretations of Elizabeth I and Frances Grey. These characters were familiar to me going in, but Fremantle's unconventional approach to their personalities and roles resulted in something both unique and memorable. 

Fremantle adds dimension to the story through Levina Teerlinc. A minor historical footnote, Levina is an artisan. A court-painter who exists in the privileged circles of the elite without belonging to it. Her voice balances those of her social superiors, but really liked how her story arc paralleled and played against those of Catherine and Mary. 

Richly detailed and vividly dramatic, Sisters of Treason, is a genuinely first-rate historical. Engaging, provocative and damn near impossible to put down. 

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It is the book, dear sister, of the law of the Lord. It is the testament and last will, which he bequeathed unto us wretches, which shall lead you to the path of eternal joy. And if you have a good mind to read it, it shall bring you to an immortal and everlasting life. It shall teach you to live and learn you to die.
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