Friday, February 4, 2011
Scandalous Women in Fiction: THE IRISH PRINCESS
author: Karen Harper
Publisher: NAL, February 1, 2011
From the back cover:
Born into a first family of Ireland, with royal ties on both sides, Elizabeth Fitzgerald-known as Gera-finds her world overturned when Henry VIII imprisons her father, the Earl of Kildare, and brutally destroys her family. Torn from the home she loves, her remaining family scattered, Gera dares not deny the refuge offered her in England's glittering royal court. There she must navigate ever-shifting alliances even as she nurtures her secret desire for revenge. From County Kildare's lush green fields to London's rough-and-tumble streets and the royal court's luxurious pageantry, The Irish Princess follows the journey of a daring woman whose will cannot be tamed, and who won't be satisfied until she restores her family to its rightful place in Ireland.
My thoughts: I first came across the name Elizabeth Fitzgerald while researching Grace O'Malley for SCANDALOUS WOMEN. And then I saw her name again while reading Tracy Borham's excellent book ELIZABETH'S WOMEN which was just published in the states this past fall. So when I heard that Karen Harper's new book was about Gera, I couldn't wait for it to be published. I grabbed my copy early Tuesday morning while browsing the front table at Barnes & Noble. This isn't the first book by Karen Harper that I've read, I've also read THE LAST BOLEYN about Anne's older sister Mary which is excellent. There are so many books out there set in The Tudor time period, that its almost overkill. What I found intriguing about this book was that Gera was Irish. The history of Ireland as I discovered while reading about Grace O'Malley is full of intriguing characters, and is virtually untapped as a setting for most historical fiction set during this time period. Gera is the ultimate outsider at the Tudor court, her family is attainted, even though
she is half-English and related to Henry VIII through her mother Elizabeth Grey, a granddaughter of Elizabeth Woodville, she must keep a tight hold of her tongue at all times, which she often is not too successful at doing. The novel is filled with the usual suspects, Lady Jane Grey makes an appearance, as do her parents, and Catherine Howard who is as much of a dingbat in this book as she is in the Showtime series.
While I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I didn't love it, although I loved Gera who is feisty, stubborn to the point of recklessness, fiercely loyal to her family and the idea that the Geraldines will once again rule Ireland as they did successfully for the English for almost 100 years. Gera is also beautiful with red gold hair and pale skin, when she meets the young Princess Elizabeth, she feels a sense of kinship with the girl, who like her, has been buffeted about as she is in and out of favor according to her father's will. Henry VIII in this novel, is not the handsome figure that Jonathan Rhys-Meyers cut in Showtime's THE TUDORS. This is more the Henry VIII that most historical fiction readers have come to know. He's crotchety, cranky, morbidly obese with a disposition that can turn from hot to cold on a dime. Gera hates Henry with a passion, and spends most of the novel trying to figure out ways to destroy him.
The early part of the novel moves quickly as the young Gera Fitzgerald is forced to leave Ireland after the reckless actions of her older half-brother Thomas, nicknamed Silken Thomas. Resourceful, and fiercely Irish, Gera manages to secrete away The Red Book of Kildare out of the country so that the English don't get their hands on it. On the boat from Ireland to England to join the rest of her family who went to England earlier, she meets Edward Clinton, the husband of Henry VIII's discarded mistress Bessie Blount. Despite her young age (she's 13), she's immediately attracted to Clinton, even though he's English, one of her avowed enemy. But even before she gets to England, Gera learns about treachery, when she learns that her uncle by marriage, has turned her 5 uncles into the English.
The novel for me bogged down after the execution of her half-brother and uncles. Once Gera is at court, she becomes more of an observer, than instigator of action. While it was fascinating to see events through her eyes, at times I found my attention wandering, until Edward Clinton came back into the story, and he and Gera sparred. Their forbidden attraction, that has to be kept hidden because Clinton is married and Gera is bethrothed to Sir Anthony Browne, a man over 40 years her senior, give the novel heart. Otherwise, it would just be a revenge story. The book picked up again after Edward VI's death, in the struggle for the crown between Lady Jane Grey and Mary Tudor, which leads to conflict between Gera and her new husband, because his mentor is John Dudley, the father of Guildford and Robert. Gera is plunged once again into the action, and the book is wonderfully exciting at this point.
When Gera finally returns to Ireland at the end of the book, the reader feels as if she and the main character have come full circle. Harper was wise to end her book when she did, although Gera's life continued for another 20 or so years after the books end.
My verdict: THE IRISH PRINCESS features a strong, powerful female protagonist that most readers will identify with. With a strong beginning and end, only the meandering middle kept it from being a keeper for me. Still if you are looking for something a little different, THE IRISH PRINCESS might just be your cup of tea.