Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Queen's Lady - Barbara Kyle

the queen's lady
barbara kyle
c. 1994 (as a dangerous temptation)
525 pages
completed 7/16/2010

read for: year of the historical challenge

*may contain spoilers*

She would remember this forever after as the night she watched two men die, one at peace and one in terror.

After the death and simultaneous excommunication of her father, Honor Larke is taken under the guardianship of a greedy and devious noble and an equally evil priest. Several years later she is rescued by Sir Thomas Moore and brought up as his ward during which time she is noticed by the Queen of England, Catherine of Aragon. Honor begins serving as one of her ladies-in-waiting and soon becomes a trusted confidante and letter carrier. However, after witnessing the burning of two heretics, one of whom was a childhood friend, Honor begins to question the religion she was brought up in and which is so enmeshed in the lives of her two benefactors (the Queen and Sir Thomas). Honor's questioning soon boils over into action as she teams up with two very different men, one rash and reckless and one cool and collected, in order to rid England of intolerance.

The synopsis on the back of this book gave me a very different idea of what this book was going to be. In no way did it mention religion and the tension between Protestants and Catholics and Honor becoming this Scarlet Pimpernel for Protestants character. I went into this expecting a very certain kind of historical fiction, something a little more serious, but what I got instead was a lot more melodramatic and outrageous. Maybe if I'd gone into this expecting it to be more crazy adventure I could have gotten behind it more. As it was, I found a lot of Honor's schemes unbelievable. Not just unbelievable, but unbelievably reckless and stupid. And kind of far-fetched, especially the time she was stuck in the hold of the ship for three days with no food or water and in order to save her, her partner set the boat on fire. It was just too over the top for me.

I also didn't find Honor's religious transformation all that believable. I understand that she was heartbroken by the death of Ralph. Believe me, I was too. If you are a servant boy in your late teens or early twenties and you have an absolute unwavering devotion to your mistress, especially one who is either a child or well into middle/old age, it's pretty much a given that I will fall for you. So yes, Honor's whole world was rocked when Ralph was burned as a heretic. But once she began to argue with Sir Thomas about the justification of his execution she lost me. She began the discussion assuming there had been a mistake and Ralph was innocent of heresy, but as soon as it had been proven to her that there was no mistake, that Ralph was indeed a Protestant, just like that (imagine fingers snapping) she changed her tune to argue that these heretical beliefs were okay to have. And that I couldn't buy. Honor had been described as a learned theologian. Sir Thomas had made sure to have Honor well educated, she corresponded with leading theologians of the time, so Protestant ideas could not have been new to her. To change her beliefs on the merits of Protestantism so suddenly made no sense to me.

As her new ideas on Protestantism made no sense to me, neither did most of the rest of her actions throughout the rest of the book as they all stemmed from this incident. Becoming the savior of the Protestants, Honor who before now was known as the Queen's last, most loyal lady-in-waiting, secretly teams up with Thomas Cromwell to get Anne on the throne, thinking she would lead the country to tolerance. Before, she had almost an infatuation with her guardian Sir Thomas, and now she does everything in her power to destroy him. The book even used Honor to give Cromwell the idea to make everyone swear an oath of succession, the oath that brought Sir Thomas to his death. She just so easily betrayed these people who loved her and gave her everything. I found it amusing that her name was Honor considering she really had none. It was so hard to get behind anything she did. Also amusing that though she seemed to be fighting so hard for tolerance of Protestantism, she seemed to have no tolerance of other people's religious beliefs. This book made sure to show the worst sides of religion, the greed and violence, (Catholic, Lutheran, and Anabaptist mostly) and not much of the good, turning Honor further and further into atheism. Which would have been fine had she not been so sanctimonious about how she had found the answers and that all religion was crap and those who couldn't see that were blind and stupid. I know there are two more books in this series but I don't think I will be reading them.


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