The Spanish Bride
The story of Henry VIII and his wives is a well-known one and, in most portrayals, Catherine of Aragon is shown as a victim, sometimes even a martyr of Henry’s desire for a male heir. The repeated descriptions of her as barren or as a pitiable, cast-aside wife make it hard for many readers to see her as more than just a victim. In the first of Jove’s series on the wives of Henry VIII, Laurien Gardner (a pseudonym for several Berkeley/Jove authors taking a turn at writing books for the series) does an excellent job of showing Catherine of Aragon to be someone far more complicated than one may realize.
The story is told through the eyes of Estrella, one of Catherine’s ladies-in-waiting. The reader essentially gets to see two sides of Estrella – the young teenager newly arrived from Spain and the widowed lady in her early 40s, newly returned to Court to stand by her queen as Henry VIII seeks to set her aside in order to marry Anne Boleyn. The story jumps back and forth in time as the young, naive Estrella and the older and wiser lady watch events unfold around her. Her place at Court gives Estrella a unique bird’s eye view of the intrigue surrounding her, and her descriptions of Catherine and her circumstances paint a very vivid picture indeed.
Estella’s queen is no passive victim. Though pious as the historians have often described her, Catherine is also warm, intelligent, and strong. She is a woman of conviction and, though her position at the English court often left her in situations of near powerlessness, she is shown as having the ability to inspire great affection and loyalty. Instead of helplessness, Gardner shows readers a queen gifted with great determination, capable of finding her way through the maze of court intrigues and using every resource available, no matter how small, to protect her interests. Though Estrella does not always agree with Catherine’s convictions or her assessments of people (most notably her blind spot for her husband), it is clear that the queen has her lady-in-waiting’s loyalty.
Estrella herself is more than a mere frame to Catherine’s story since the author writes a compelling tale for her as well. The reader gets to see Estrella grow from a naive, hopeful girl to a woman who has had many of her illusions stripped from her. Seeing the world through the eyes of the young Estrella as well the older, more cynical one is rather compelling and I liked her more and more as I got deeper into her world. Though this novel is not a romance, there are some romantic elements and I found myself rooting for Estrella to find her happy ending.
The flow of the story is a little too choppy to make this a DIK for me, but it is still a book I highly recommend. The dramatic historical tale is one that will be familiar to many readers, but seeing it through the eyes of Gardner’s characters somehow makes it feel new again. If you like the feeling of being in the middle of major events, this story will take you there. I look forward to the remaining books in the series.