I have read and heard many positive critiques about Philippa Gregory, so I was really excited to finally read one of her books. Unfortunately, the hype did not live up to my expectations.
Fellow readers claim that this book takes a new approach to Katherine of Aragon's life with a predominant focus on her marriage to Prince Arthur. Yes, this is true. It does focus on that five month period but at what cost? This is not the most fascinating part of Katherine's life, especially considering all that was left out from the book. This focus on an untouched aspect of her life was really just an excuse to highlight romantic aspects of the characters' relationships, which more than likely didn't exist in real life.
One of the major critiques of the book was the unusual focus on the romantic relationships. I enjoy reading historical romances, but that is not what I expected when I picked up The Constant Princess. Even if I was hoping for a romance novel, this one paled in comparison to others of the genre that I've read. Gregory targeted a certain audience with her drivel, women romance readers, rather than us lovers of history. Additionally, the whole approach to the story just felt wrong. None of it was realistic. When a reader picks up a historical fiction genre book, we hope to be fascinated by how facts and history are translated into a more creative form rather than a romanticized re-telling of history. Throwing in a couple of important dates or real people from history does not make the book historical fiction.
Gregory wrote Katherine's history as a character tale because that gave her the most freedom to play with the fiction elements of her book. Many intimate details are revealed about all the characters, including Henry VIII's obsession with Katherine (and even his own father's obsession with his daughter-in-law). Katherine's personal life and thoughts are indicated by the use of italicized first-person narrative spread intermittently throughout the third person traditional story-telling style. At first, I found this aspect intriguing. However, the thrill quickly wore off. These portions were overly dramatized and redundant. Katherine came off as a wishy-washy, whiny woman. She would have faith in God one minute because she was chosen and then, just as quickly, lose it all because of bad luck in her life. If Gregory had dramatically reduced these portions in the book, I would have enjoyed the reading more because it would have highlighted these few poignant moments. Instead, I found myself skipping ahead to the more-compelling third person narrative.
Philippa Gregory states at the conclusion of her book and on her website that she wanted to portray Katherine as a strong woman, which is why she ended it the way she did. To put it bluntly, she failed. Katherine's whole reason for committing the heinous lie of history (that she was a virgin when she married Henry VIII) was because another made her promise to lie. She was to continue the lie because she was told to not because she wanted to be Queen of England. This decision needed to be all about Katherine to make her stand out as the strong woman that history has depicted her as. She told the lie or the truth (after all, we can only speculate on this matter because this is a gray area of history) because she desired the power, freedom, and political connections a continued marriage to the king of England would provide.
Alas, the entire book was not redundant with childish writing and bad grammar. There were some interesting parts, such as the last ten or so pages of the book. Katherine shows herself as a warrior who bravely leads her troops against the villainous Scots. Where was this Katherine hiding throughout the entire book? Too bad she didn't make an appearance until the end! Excluding this, the only other high point of the book was when Katherine is introduced as a child in Granada at the very beginning. Even in this situation, her mother, Isabella of Spain, shined more than her daughter. Now, that's a historical fiction book I want to read!
Overall, most of the characters were not developed strongly enough or were too comical in their overly emotional presentations. Sadly, any historical elements to the book were told to the reader rather than shown or described through the narrative.
I expected much more from Philippa Gregory, but she never delivered the fascinating glimpse of British history that she is raved for. I'm not excited to pick up any of her other titles even though I did enjoy the Hollywood adaptation of The Other Boleyn Girl. I just don't see the point if all I have waiting for me is disappointment.
(4.5 rating) It is 1491 and Catalina is Infanta of Spain and Princess of Wales, her parents Ferdinand and Isabella. In the Spanish court, religion reigns alongside the regents, Christianity engaged in a centuries-long battle with Islam for dominance of the region. Katherine is promised to Arthur of England, son of Henry VII, her destiny proscribed by necessity. As a child, Catalina cannot fathom the drama that will overtake her life in that far away place or the controversy that will surround her … more
I usually enjoy Gregory's writing but with this book and her last, The Virgin's Lover, I am beginning to wonder if her need to churn something out is overcoming her research. Gregory takes the truly interesting story of Catalina of Aragon and gives it a spin that is highly improbable according to historical facts. At times the story is out and out false: Catalina (also known as Katherine) never had a "phantom" pregnancy; that was her tragic daughter, Mary I. Highly illogical as well is the idea … more
It is 1491 and Catalina is Infanta of Spain and Princess of Wales, her parents Ferdinand and Isabella. In the Spanish court, religion reigns alongside the regents, Christianity engaged in a centuries-long battle with Islam for dominance of the region. Katherine is promised to Arthur of England, son of Henry VII, her destiny proscribed by necessity. As a child, Catalina cannot fathom the drama that will overtake her life in that far away place or the controversy that will surround her in the Tudor … more