Desert Isle Keeper
The Queen's Fool
The Queen’s Fool shows the plotting, spying, and intrigue that lay at the heart of the court of Queen Mary of England, as seen through the eyes of a woman who was an outsider. If you like that sort of thing – as I do – you really should pick it up. It’s the kind of book that I don’t just want to savor myself; I want to thrust it into the hands of strangers and say, “Read this!”
Hannah da Verde saw her mother burned at the stake as a heretic in Spain. She and her father fled to England and changed their name to Green, hoping for a more peaceful and safe existence. But there will be no safety anywhere for Hannah and her father, for they are Jewish, and their presence is outlawed in every country in western Europe. They scrupulously observe every Christian ritual in public, and in private do their best to keep kosher and obey the half-forgotten laws of their people. Deception is second-nature to Hannah.
Hannah also has the Sight. On the day she meets a handsome lord named Robert Dudley she has a vision of an angel. Dudley and his father, the powerful Duke of Northumberland, take Hannah from her father and install her as the Fool of King Edward VI. She is to spy on Edward for the Dudleys, and report to them any wisdom that her Sight grants her. She has no choice: they suspect that her family is Jewish, and will expose her if she does not agree.
Edward soon dies, and Hannah finds herself by the side of his sister, Mary, the rightful heir. Mary’s courage and kindness win her heart even as the Dudleys plot to put Lady Jane Grey (and her husband, a Dudley) on the throne. Hannah’s loyalties are divided: should she be faithful to Mary, who has become a surrogate mother to her, or to Lord Robert, who holds her heart in the thrall of a passionate adolescent infatuation? Hannah’s plight becomes even more complicated when she meets Mary’s other sibling, Elizabeth, whose beauty and charisma both fascinate and repel Hannah.
Tudor history as it was taught to me always portrayed Queen Mary as either a cruel religious fanatic or a pathetic and wretched woman – or both – and Elizabeth as powerful, ruthless, but wise. This book paints another picture of the two women, a more complex one; it seems to conform well with the historical evidence. Mary is the most courageous woman Hannah has ever met; she is generous, loyal, kind, and passionately devoted to the welfare of her people. It is her dedication to her church and to her Spanish husband that leads her to burn Protestant heretics. Princess Elizabeth, on the other hand, is intelligent, beautiful, and treacherous. Hannah thinks that she is a selfish, malicious liar who cannot be trusted with any woman’s husband and who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. Yet while Hannah thoroughly distrusts the young princess, she is nevertheless drawn by her charisma and drive. The author brings these and several other historical figures to life, and they are breathtaking.
All of this would just be a well-written costume drama without a compelling heroine. To my delight, Hannah is a to-die-for heroine. She is the first-person narrator, so we spend all our time inside her head. Hannah is highly sympathetic, but she is young, headstrong, and has just enough knots and thorns in her personality to keep her interesting. You know the bumper sticker that says that well-behaved women rarely make history? Well, Hannah is not a well-behaved woman. She is willful and stubborn to an unbelievable degree. I don’t mean that she’s spunky – she’s such a complicated character that she can’t be summed up in a word, or even in a few sentences. And she is torn by a tangle of alliances that would make anyone’s head spin: to her Jewish community, her beloved Queen, the fascinating Lord Robert, and – dead last on the list – her fiancé.
Hannah’s family has arranged for her to marry a nice Jewish boy named Daniel Carpenter, who has no sympathy and no understanding of the complex royal court at which Hannah lives. Their relationship is contentious and always interesting. At first it seems impossible: he is a highly traditional Jewish man who expects his wife to conform to certain standards of obedience and docility – and Hannah just can’t be that woman. Slowly he comes to appreciate and then to love his passionate, angry, willful Hannah, and he promises to make her an equal partner in their marriage. But this relationship will never be a smooth one, especially as Hannah seems determined to make it as difficult as possible. Much as I loved Hannah (and I did), sometimes I wanted to pat poor old Daniel on the back.
All of this adds up to a book that’s just riveting. I enjoyed every page of The Queen’s Fool, and I hope others will seek it out and read it, too. It is a magnificent novel.