Friday, January 26, 2007

Heads, You Lose

Sarah has posted this lovely cover of a reissue of Jean Plaidy's Murder Most Royal, about Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard. As Sarah points out, the cover is quite apt.

I read this book early last year and enjoyed it thoroughly. Here's a mini-review from my other blog (bear in mind that when I wrote it, I hadn't read as much Plaidy as I have now):

I was very impressed by Murder Most Royal, which from its original copyright date of 1949 must have been one of Plaidy's earliest novels. In many of Plaidy's novels, particularly the later ones, I get the sense that she's writing straight from notes or reference materials, with very little time spent on developing character and with dialogue that is little more than exposition. This novel, by contrast, develops character at a leisurely pace and has characters who speak to each other instead of to the reader. I also liked the way Plaidy interspersed episodes from Anne Boleyn's life with those of Catharine Howard's life.

William's Wife

William's Wife, told by Queen Mary, spans the time period from Mary's childhood to the day that she recognizes that she has contracted a fatal case of smallpox.

I found this novel readable and reasonably interesting, but I can't put it on the same level as The Queen's Favourites (Yay! I remembered the "u") or The Haunted Sisters. The book covers most of the events that are in the other two novels, particularly The Haunted Sisters, and Mary's perspective on these events simply isn't compelling enough to merit her first-person retelling of them. If Mary had a distinctive narrative voice or was more given to making sardonic comments about her contemporaries, it would be a different matter, but unfortunately the prose here is a bit plodding and repetitive. Mary also is a more competent and able person in The Haunted Sisters than she is here. All in all, her personality in this novel is rather muted.

William's character also suffers here. In The Haunted Sisters, he's reasonably complex, not all that likable but not a villain either, and he is genuinely fond of Mary, albeit poor at demonstrating it. (Indeed, the real-life William seems to have been deeply attached to Mary, at least during the latter part of the marriage, and was visibly grieved when she fell ill.) In this novel, though, William's simply an insensitive jerk whom one wishes Mary (or better yet, Sarah Churchill) would give a swift kick.

All in all, a middling Plaidy.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Queen's Favourites

(I keep having to remember to add that "u." Though this was an US edition I read, it must have been before publishers went wild with Americanizing British spellings.)

I stayed up last night to finish this book, originally published in 1966, and like its predecessors, I enjoyed it thoroughly. As the title proclaims, it's about Queen Anne's rival favorites, Sarah Churchill and Abigail Hill. The novel opens with the first meeting between Sarah Churchill and her impoverished relations, the Hills, and ends with the death of the elderly Sarah decades later.

This book proceeds at a leisurely pace, allowing Plaidy to examine the characters of Sarah and Abigail in depth. Arrogant and insensitive, Sarah is largely unsympathetic, but Plaidy avoids turning her into a caricature, chiefly because of the genuine love depicted between her and her much more likable husband, John ("Marl" as she calls him). The scene where Sarah finds that her late husband has stored up her tresses of hair, famously cut off by Sarah during a fit of temper, is touching, as are the other scenes where Sarah must bear the losses that come to her just as they come to lesser mortals.

Abigail, deceptively meek and mild, is also well portrayed, especially in the latter part of the book, where she must deal with unfulfilled yearnings despite having achieved her ambition.

Queen Anne herself is an interesting character, her placid, almost insipid manner hiding a stubborn nature and a willingness to be pushed only so far.

With a few exceptions, the men in this novel are relegated to the background, though John Churchill and Robert Harley, Abigail's dissolute ally turned enemy, play prominent roles. The focus, though, is definitely on the "petticoat politics" of Queen Anne's reign.

Ophelia Field in her 2002 biography of Sarah Churchill, The Favourite, speaks dismissively of this novel, writing, "Facts taken from schoolbook history lie like uncrushed pills in the jam of this romantic fiction, heavy with forebodings of disaster and clunking dialogue." (Field also describes the television drama "The First Churchills" as "drily educational and theatrical.") Field's biography (as far as I can tell from skimming it) is readable and intelligent, but I can't agree with her assessment of Plaidy's novel. The dialogue here doesn't sparkle, but I wouldn't call it "clunking" either; in fact, Plaidy catches Anne's maddeningly repetitive speech, Sarah's fulminations, and Abigail's subtle way of suggesting ideas to Anne quite well. And romantic? I'd hardly call the characters here, who suffer disillusionment and disappointment, and who often make mistakes and suffer for them, romantic.

Besides, if this was a romance, it'd have Sarah Churchill with a bare-chested John Churchill on the cover, and it doesn't. So there.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Surfin' With Plaidy

Ouch! It's been too long since I last posted. I have been reading a Plaidy novel, The Queen's Favourites, though, so I'll soon be reporting on that. It's the story of the reign of Queen Anne and of her rival favorites, Sarah Churchill and Abigail Hill. So far it's quite good.

In the meantime, here's a link to Tanzanite's review of The Vow on the Heron, which is about Edward III and his family. I agree with her that it's nice to read about Edward III's family, particularly the female members, who often get overlooked by historical novelists.

Are you on MySpace? If so, check out Julie's newly formed Jean Plaidy Addicts group.

Doing a little more surfing tonight, I noticed this link entitled, Who Writes Like Jean Plaidy?, courtesy of the Clackmannanshire Council. (Where, I said to myself, is Clackmannashire?) Seeing Dorothy Dunnett on the list reminded me that I really need to be a good girl and check her out one of these days, but it's hard with all the Plaidys on my shelf calling out my name.

Here's a quiz by gemini chick entitled, So You Think You Know Jean Plaidy? I didn't do very well at all, I'm mortified to report. But at least I know now that I'm unlikely to run out of material for this blog any time soon!

Editor Rachel Kahan has some fine things to say about Jean Plaidy in this article on the Irene Goodman Literary Agency site.

Borders has posted some discussion questions about The Rose Without a Thorn, one of Plaidy's novels about Katherine Howard, here.

And finally, here's a very attractive website by Lynne M. Kennedy for the Sachem Public Library entitled The England of Jean Plaidy. This not only lists Plaidy's novels but describes them briefly--a great help. Be sure to check out the link for additional historical fiction as well.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Another Link: The Rose Without a Thorn

Here's a link to Clare's review of a Plaidy book about Katherine Howard, The Rose Without a Thorn.

I've read this one, but it's been quite a while. One day I'll have to pick it up again.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

The Haunted Sisters

Like the new blog colors? They struck me as being more Plaidy-ish than the orange that was there before.

Anyway, I finished reading The Haunted Sisters yesterday, and enjoyed it thoroughly. It's the story of Mary and Anne, daughters of James II, and covers the latter part of Charles II's reign to the death of King William at the hands of the Little Gentleman in Black Velvet--the mole whose hole caused the king's horse to throw its rider. In between these events, intrigue and treachery abound.

The characters are vividly drawn. Neither Mary nor Anne is particularly sympathetic at first, as both are living in the shadows of other people--Mary in that of her husband William, Anne in that of the ubiquitous Sarah Churchill. Mary grows from the passive tool of her husband into a ruler able to make wise decisions, and even Anne is beginning to develop a backbone by the end of the novel. Indeed, part of the fun of the novel is seeing Sarah get her comeuppance on occasion. Sarah herself, though thoroughly disagreeable, is vastly entertaining; horrible to live with, no doubt, but fun to watch. Anne's sickly son, the Duke of Gloucester, is charming without being cloying.

I'm looking forward to the sequel to this, The Queen's Favorites, and will be on the lookout for The Three Crowns (about William) and William's Wife (about Mary). In the meantime, Maureen Waller's 2002 nonfiction book, Ungrateful Daughters: The Stuart Princesses Who Stole Their Father's Crown, is a fascinating and readily available account of the events covered in these novels.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The Follies of the King: A Link

Tanzanite (Daphne) has reviewed The Follies of the King, Jean Plaidy's novel about Edward II, so I thought you'd want to visit there, if you haven't already.

I think this may have been both the first Edward II novel I read, and the first Plaidy I read, so it's a sentimental favorite for me. (I thought Plaidy did a nice job with the red-hot poker scene.)

If any of you out there have Plaidy reviews on your blogs you'd like me to link to, or if you're interested in posting a guest review here, sing out!

Monday, January 1, 2007

Happy 2007, and a Word of Wisdom

Happy New Year! I spent this long weekend at the beach, where I had the opportunity to visit one used bookstore that I enjoy.

Needless to say, among the authors I searched for was Jean Plaidy. I found several Philippa Carrs, a slew of Victoria Holts, but only one book by Jean Plaidy--Perdita's Prince. Which I didn't buy, as I was pretty sure that I had it already.

Well, I checked my bookshelf just now, and no Perdita's Prince. Bummer!

The moral: if you're not sure you have it, buy it. "Pretty sure" just doesn't cut it.