Rating: 4 Stars
Normally, I do not like historical fiction. Everyone and their mother knows this by now. There are exceptions I am willing to make though - particularly if it is someone who I know about, but not too much. I can not abide fictional works of certain real-life people, namely Eleanor of Aquitaine and her brood. She is too near and dear to my heart for me to entertain what someone thinks she MIGHT HAVE said or thought. Novels like this then are ideal for me because I know who Catherine Carey was, but have no deep connection otherwise. I enjoy Adrienne's work because she is thorough in her research and always quick to make note of where she took her information from, what is historically accurate, and what came from her own imagination. That is the reason I read her second novel, of Jane Boleyn, so quickly. I could not put it down. I enjoyed learning Catherine's story, but was also pleased to find that I for the most part was able to decipher on my own what was real and what was imagined, based on my other Tudor knowledge.
One thing I am not a fan of is stories told in first person. That is really the only aspect of the novel that bothered me, and it bothers me in literally every other novel I have read in the last five years. I don't know what has caused this change in me, it never used to bother me so much. Perhaps it is because my brain is now wired for non-fiction, so peoples' thoughts and emotion perturbed me now. Who knows.
I did enjoy some of the perspectives taken in Catherine's eyes, particularly that of Mary I. I have long maintained a special place in my heart for the daughter of Catherine of Aragon. I feel the treatment of herself and her mother by Henry in the years leading up to and following his marriage to Anne Boleyn were what changed Mary into the person she became. By all accounts she was a happy, thriving child, but Henry took that light in her and twisted it and damaged it beyond repair. Had she been treated more justly, I believe her reign would have reflected that. I also appreciated Catherine's portrayal in how she regarded Elizabeth - that she was difficult. Elizabeth is one of my least favorite people in history, I find her manipulative and dramatic and annoying. I am glad to see I am not the only one who might view her as difficult and Catherine and I agreed greatly - though she was still loyal and loved Elizabeth dearly.
The tenderness between the various characters is what really stands out in this novel for me, whether it be between husbands and wives, parents and children, etc. Sometimes it is easy to look back on these long-ago times and see these people as so wholly different from us. But it is also easy to forget they were in fact real people with real thoughts and feelings and hopes and dreams, people who loved those dear to them. I always find this especially true when addressing the high mortality rate in infants and children of the time. Just because a family has so many children does not mean the deaths of little ones are felt any less deeply. I also appreciated the love between Catherine and her husband. While it was an arranged marriage, I can hope that it truly became a loving one - and I think the multitude of children reflects that.
The big question here though, involves the view that recognizes Catherine has Henry VIII's daughter, this making Catherine a half sister to three Tudor monarchs. I believe until there is DNA testing done to prove once and for all, this debate will not end. But, as we can not even pin down the time line correctly, this may be another one for the 'We will never know' pile.
Overall this was a lovely portrayal of a lesser-known figure in Tudor history. If you enjoy historical fiction based on the facts available, you will likely enjoy this one. Highly recommended.