Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Constant Princess, by Phillippa Gregory

It's back to Tudor England for me and Phillippa Gregory's The Constant Princess, a prequel of sorts to The Other Boleyn Girl. This historical novel is based on the life of Catalina, Infanta of Spain, youngest daughter of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, two of the most powerful (and devout) monarchs in Europe. Catalina is also the promised wife of Arthur, heir to the English throne. Styled "Princess of Wales" at age three, she is destined to unite Spain and England through marriage.

To many, Queen Katherine (as she was later known) is best remembered as the wife Henry VIII discarded (right along with Catholicism) for the young usurper, Anne Boleyn. (Enter The Other Boleyn Girl.) In this novel, however, Ms. Gregory introduces us to Catalina as a young child, on crusade with her parents and then later, ensconced peacefully in the beautiful Alhambra. The story then continues with the Infanta as a young adult, on the precipice of what she considers her destiny. I think the reader will grow to admire Catalina and understand her actions as she struggles to become Queen.

The writing itself is fast paced, the story hums along nicely and in a relative straight line - easy to follow, easy to understand. Perhaps a bit too easy. I was expecting more of the breathless complexity of The Other Boleyn Girl, where characters buzzed in and out and the level of suspense and intrigue ran continuously high. That's not to say that this isn't an enjoyable and informative read. It's well worth the time, even if only to properly round out the back story of Henry VIII.

I wouldn't want to leave you with the impression that this novel is boring. It is not. There is plenty to consider, most importantly the author's premise that Catalina's motivation behind her ambition was based on a deathbed promise made to her first husband. I'll leave it to you to decide if that's a worthy assertion. But beyond that, I was left that all there is?

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