Into the treacherous Tudor court walks Hannah Green, a bookseller's daughter with a gift to read more than his banned books. Entangled in the schemes of the handsome traitor Robert Dudley, she is sent as a Holy Fool to spy on Princess Mary and finds a complex woman driven by a fatal desire to turn England back to its true faith - while her half-sister Elizabeth waits to take advantages of any mistake she makes.
Caught in the deadly rivalry between the daughters of Henry VIII, torn between her infatuation with Dudley and duty to her family, Hannah must find a safe way through tumultuous times - when the wrong religion is a death sentence, science and magic are one, and true love is a fatal weakness...
Philippa Gregory is my undisputed Queen of Tudor-related novels. I absolutely love her writing style and I love submerging myself in the stories she tells.
Hannah is a fictitious character set in a world of mostly fact. The books I've read prior by Gregory always focus on a real person (like Elizabeth, Mary Stuart, Katherine of Aragon, etc) but it doesn't even diminish the book that Hannah didn't exist - because someone like her could have existed. Her story is told so vividly, describing a 16th century London that's so real I could almost smell it (and ew, that place smelled horrid, they didn't believe in showering back then) **
I think my only complaint, if we can call it that, is that while the big characters' fates (such as Mary's and Elizabeth's) are set in stone, Gregory could do with Hannah's as she pleased - and though she goes through hell, it ends up as close to picture perfect as you could have it back then. It's a bit of a conundrum, because it's not like I don't want her to have a happy ending; it's just not a walk in the park to centre a book around both factitious and fictitious characters (are those even real words or did I just make them up?).
Another teeny tiny complaint is how very long the books feels when it dwells on life at Mary's court (hint: it was dreary).
But all in all - if you enjoy historical novels and if you like me have soft spot for all things the Tudors, read Gregory's books!
490 pages / published in 2003
Review by Iben Jakobsen, BoB, 2012
**Bonus info: Hannah starts out living near the Temple Area by Fleet Street in London - a street and area I visited extensively while in London in the start of June this year so I could basically visualize the entire thing!