AudioBook Review: Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle
History can be fun and exciting, and historical fiction can bring all of those elements into play for people who think that they aren’t interested. Henry VIII was an interesting figure, and many dramatizations have been made from the time, many are incredibly fun and carry the feel of any other daytime drama with intrigue, love, lies and danger winding through. So, the Tudor court is a great place to find something fun in history, and this story of the younger sisters of Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Day Queen, gives a glimpse into that world and whets the appetite for more.
You can’t go wrong if you are starting your foray into British History when you dive in to the Tudor Era. Instantly familiar with Henry VIII and Bloody Mary and Elizabeth I, their imagery is iconic and familiar to many. But there was far more happening beneath the glitz and glamorized portraits, beyond the frequent and often capricious beheadings, past the Tower and the scuffles for religious supremacy, and Elizabeth Freemantle brings us the story of three characters caught in the drama and intrigue by virtue of bloodlines and friendship.
Perfectly suited as a read / listen for an older teen with an interest in history, the machinations of those behind the scenes and in the spotlight of the Queens often problematic gaze, the era and the trials come to life in this audiobook. Told from the perspective of Catherine and Mary Grey, granddaughters of Henry VII and sisters to Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days Queen, and a court artist Levina Teerlinc, a friend of their mother, we are able to grasp some of the difficulties and stress inherent in being associated with the Tudor court.
After Jane’s beheading at the behest of Mary, Henry VIII’s eldest daughter and a staunch Catholic, the resurgence in Catholicism after Henry’s infamous break from the church, the Grey sisters are endangered. Their father was a staunch reformer, and much inclined to machinations and power plays to place his girls in the best position for power. When Jane was executed, the Grey’s were not allowed to leave court: as cousins to the Queen, and with questions of loyalty, they were subject to Queen’s whims: Mary, the youngest was akin to a plaything, the Queen’s Poppet. Her older sister Catherine or Kitty, is a great beauty with a penchant for saying exactly what she thinks at the moment, and a rather strong sense of self, believing herself irresistible.
As the story winds on, we get the three perspectives, most strikingly that of Mary. At first, her childlike appearance and docile nature belie the intelligence, her observant nature and strong interior monologue allow us to see her grow: both in understanding of the world, and the people who inhabit it. A favorite of the childless Mary, she is often tweaked, tugged, patted and positioned like a substitute child, doll-like in the attentions. This allows us to see many of the courtiers and advisors from her eyes, never missing the nuances that give clues into the real person behind the apparent doting upon the Queen.
Catherine is hot-headed, somewhat thoughtless but to her own advancement, but wholly devoted to her family. The remove and occasional shaming remarks from the other ladies in the court rankle, as she is certainly the highest born and closest cousin to the throne, but her mother and Levina fear for her life: her elder sister inherited the crown and lost her head, she could be perceived as a threat by both Mary and Elizabeth. Pretty, charming and well aware of her persuasive nature, Kitty comes under fire more times than not, and keeping her safe and whole is close to an impossible task.
And that task falls to Levina, after the girls’ mother obtains permission to remarry and leave court. Embroiled in her own intrigues, watching and telling the story of romances, documenting in writing and with drawings the horrors of heretic burnings, beheadings and mass arrests, she is fascinated with the Grey girls, an emotion nearly as strong as her feelings of loyalty to their mother. Trying to counsel and protect the girls and her own position, her insights and insets are wonderful additions, as we see the slow dissolution of her own status and marriage in the often treacherous time.
Narration in this story is provided by Teresa Gallagher, Georgina Sutton and Rachel Bavidge. No information is provided as to which character each narrates, but the choices / assignments were well-made and each character has a distinct voice, emotional overlay and feels appropriate. The narration of this lengthy book was definitely a highlight, breaking up the story neatly and each narrator managed to give a sense of their character. Mary, a child-like tone and approach that belies the very astute, adult observations. Kitty who alternated between carefree spoilt child to an edge that was tinged with scheming and plotting with an unformed, immature attention to consequence and lastly Levina, with her rather guarded revelations of emotion, most freely offered in her moments of memory and early marriage. The narrations neatly presented a sense of the characters, honoring the words and emotions of the story without beating the listener over the head with overly-dramatic rendition. There is plenty of tension and drama within the story and situation itself, additional emphasis would be overreach.
This story does not have a happy ending, not unlike much of the Tudor Era, happiness was just out of reach for the long-term. But, there are wonderful insights and a solid sense of the time, the minefield that is the court, and the trials that came to the three women purely by virtue of circumstance. If you want to learn, in the most general of ways, a bit about the Tudor Queens and the feel of England at the time, this is a great place to whet your appetite: far less dry than a more scholarly tome, but entertaining and intriguing.
Stars Overall 4 Narration 4 Story 4
Title: Sisters of Treason
Author: Elizabeth Fremantle
Genre: Historical Fiction
Narrator: Georgina Sutton, Rachel Bavidge, Teresa Gallagher
Published by: SimonandSchuster.com/Audio
Source: Simon and Schuster Audio
Audio Length: 15 Hours: 29 minutes
Get Your Copy: Amazon ♦ AllRomance ♦ iTunes ♦ Downpour ♦ IndieBound ♦Audible
About the Book:
From the author of Queen’s Gambit, which People magazine called, “A must-read for Philippa Gregory fans,” a gripping historical novel about two sisters who tread as dangerously close to the crown as their tragic sister, Lady Jane Grey, executed after just nine days on the throne.
Early in Mary Tudor’s turbulent reign, Lady Catherine and Lady Mary Grey are reeling after the brutal execution of their elder seventeen-year-old sister, Lady Jane Grey, and the succession is by no means stable. In Sisters of Treason, Elizabeth Freemantle brings these young women to life in a spellbinding Tudor tale of love and politics.
Neither sister is well suited to a dangerous life at court. Flirtatious Lady Catherine, thought to be the true heir, cannot control her compulsion to love and be loved. Her sister, clever Lady Mary, has a crooked spine and a tiny stature in an age when physical perfection equates to goodness—and both girls have inherited the Tudor blood that is more curse than blessing. For either girl to marry without royal permission would be a potentially fatal political act. It is the royal portrait painter, Levina Teerlinc, who helps the girls survive these troubled times. She becomes their mentor and confidante, but when the Queen’s sister, the hot-headed Elizabeth, inherits the crown, life at court becomes increasingly treacherous for the surviving Grey sisters. Ultimately each young woman must decide how far she will go to defy her Queen, risk her life, and find the safety and love she longs for.
From “a brilliant new player in the court of royal fiction,” (People) Sisters of Treason brings to vivid life the perilous and romantic lives of two little known young women who played a major role in the complex politics of their day.
A copy of this title was provided via Simon and Schuster Audio for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.