In this novel Karen Harper turns her attention to Queen Elizabeth and Henry VII and reveals their life through the words of Varina, a lowly candle maker.
Both women, Queen and candle maker alike, experience the loss of a child and it's that sense of loss which bonds them together and drives the plot forwards. There's a mystery to solve.
The Royal baby may have died under suspicious circumstances and Queen Elizabeth turns to Varina to discover the truth but; on her way to that discovery the candle maker uncovers a network of hatred closing in around Royal couple. Varina is in dreadful danger and the deeper she digs the more severe the consequences.
There's plenty of depth in the story and the central mystery is interesting enough to keep most fans of historical fiction hooked. Queen Elizabeth and Varina are well developed as characters but it's Varina who steals the show.
'The Queen's Confidante' is a decent mystery and the historical background quite believable. There's a fair amount of concentration on the rights of women at the time and how they were considered 'property'. Those themes are highlighted by a couple of 'punchy' scenes which are strongly written and perhaps a little bit over the top.
I didn't find this novel too much of a challenge if I'm being honest but it made for a quick, entertaining read.
Happy to recommend.
on 19 December 2013
A suspense story and historical of two remarkable women in the England of 1501-Varena Westcott a candle maker who mourns for her late husband, and one of her sons, while carving out beautiful wax models and bringing up her other little boy.
And Queen Elizabeth of York, the daughter of Edward IV, the sister of the princes in the tower and Queen of King Henry VII (as well as the mother of the future King Henry VIII)
Elizabeth of York's face was also what the the face of the Queen in playing card decks up to this very day are modeled on.
The Queen hires Varena to carve an effigies of her two late brothers and after the death of her elder son and heir Prince Arthur to help resolve what seems to be a murder by poisoning . From then she is swept into maelstrom of mystery, murder, suspense and fear, while being engaged in a romance with the dashing Nicholas.
The characters are strong and engaging and I enjoyed most the novel. Good setting and creatively and engagingly written.Only the end and the role played by Francis Lovell seems a bit off the wall, and detracts from the overall good and entertaining historical mystery
Henry VII struggles to secure his hold on the throne, fervent Yorkists determined to get rid of him. Meanwhile his wife Elizabeth forms an unlikely friendship with feisty candlemaker Varina Westcott. They are united by circumstances: both mourn the tragic early death of a son called Edmund; both have a son Arthur on whom they dote.
Varina soon finds herself caught up in dastardly plots, her life increasingly at risk - cue for scares, threats, many chases, dramatic escapes. Lucky is she to have dashing courtier Nicholas Sutton as her protector. Hopefully he will survive to provide the ending readers want.
Well researched and absorbing, the novel offers possible explanations for two mysteries which have puzzled historians. Who ordered the deaths of Elizabeth's little brothers, those Princes in the Tower? How came Prince Arthur to die so suddenly?
Varina and Elizabeth take turns to narrate (a device which jars a little at first). Purists may nit-pick, but most readers will not - they enjoying Varina's determination to succeed in a man's world. It is true that from start to finish the book is death obsessed, but justifiably in the circumstances. It is also true certain sequences are somewhat melodramatic, but they add to the excitement - especially with suggestion of mystical aspects. Amongst particular pleasures is that depiction of young Catherine of Aragon and her loving (if probably unconsummated) relationship with youthful husband Arthur.
Appropriately, in view of Varina's trade, much light is shed here on a period of history overdue for illumination.
Tudor England is a well-ploughed furrow when it comes to historical novels but Karen Harper's book manages to feel fresh and interesting in spite of this. Set during the reign of Henry Tudor, it's the story of Varina, a widow, whose craft is to make candles. Because of her skills in shaping wax, she is brought to the attention of the the King's wife, Elizabeth of York. The story is told in the form of a dual narrative - sometimes that of Varina, and sometimes that of the Queen. What drives the plot fowards are two mysteries. One is well-known - the fate of Elizabeth of York's brothers, the so-called princes in the tower, and the other, whether there was any foul-play involved in the death of Elizabeth's eldest son and Henry Tudor's heir, Prince Arthur, recently married to Catherine of Aragon and sent to Ludlow.
I thought Karen Harper dealt very well with the intrigues that remained despite the end of the Wars of the Roses, giving enough detail about possible suspects whose loyalty was questionable without overwhelming the reader with detail. I enjoyed too the Tudor atmosphere that Harper conjures up. Varina's journey to meet the queen really showed that these two women were world's apart, and the scenes in an around Ludlow castle I found particularly evocative. I also liked Varina's character very much. She is anxious to make her way in her profession and be independent despite the constraints placed upon her by the men around her. Like the Queen, she is grieving the loss of a child.
If you enjoy Philippa Gregory, or Anne O'Brien, then I suspect that you will probably find this a good read too.
One of the things I like about Karen Harper's books is the fact that although she writes about a period of history that has been covered many times before - the Tudor and Elizabethan era - she manages to find new and original ways to approach the subject. This latest novel, The Queen's Confidante, is set in 1501 and follows the adventures of a young woman with her own candle making business who becomes embroiled in two historical mysteries.
Her name is Varina Westcott and she's a candlemaker who specialises in making angel-shaped candles for funerals and who also has a talent for carving wax likenesses of real people. When Queen Elizabeth of York, wife to Henry VII, hears about Varina she secretly commissions her to make effigies of her dead children and also of her two younger brothers, the Princes in the Tower, who it is rumoured were murdered by Richard III. Elizabeth has always wanted to learn the truth behind the disappearance of her brothers, but if she delves too deeply into the mystery will she discover something she would rather not know?
Meanwhile, Elizabeth and Henry's eldest son, Prince Arthur, has just married the Spanish princess, Catherine of Aragon. When Arthur dies suddenly of a mysterious illness, Elizabeth asks Varina to investigate on her behalf. Varina has lost a child of her own so she understands the Queen's suffering and agrees to help. She is joined in her investigations by Nick Sutton, a courtier whose family fought against Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth and who is now trying to prove his loyalty to the new King.
The story is told in two alternating narratives, Varina's and the Queen's, though Varina's forms the largest part of the book. I could see why it was necessary to have the Queen narrate some of the story because it allowed us to see things from another viewpoint and filled in some information that Varina did not have access to, but I think I would have preferred to stay with Varina for the whole book as I thought her character was better written than Elizabeth's. I particularly enjoyed learning about Varina's work as a candlemaker in the early 1500s. As a woman, Varina is not allowed to join the Worshipful Guild of Wax Chandlers and although she owns her own business, she is at the mercy of decisions made by men - she is even prevented from selling her beautiful angel candles until the guild members decide how to price and distribute them. Yet another example of how frustrating and difficult it must have been for a woman trying to make an independent living for herself in the 16th century!
The theory Harper suggests which explains the mystery of the Princes in the Tower was satisfactory enough. Considering nobody knows what actually happened or who was responsible for the disappearances, I found it no less believable than any other I've read. But the book's other mystery, the death of Prince Arthur, is something I don't know as much about - I've never given any thought to whether he could have been murdered and have always assumed he died of natural causes. Nothing I read in this book did anything to convince me that Arthur really had been murdered, though it was interesting to read Karen Harper's comments on this in her author's note.
I've enjoyed all three of the books I've read by Harper, but this one is my least favourite. I just found it too hard to accept the idea of the Queen of England asking a candlemaker to act as an undercover detective. Also, as someone who believes Richard III has been unfairly treated by history, I didn't like the fact that he and his supporters are viewed as villains by most of the characters in the story and this meant I enjoyed the book less than I might otherwise have done. I admit that I'm biased though, and this probably wouldn't be a problem at all for readers less familiar with the period than I am and who haven't already formed their own opinions of the historical figures involved!
on 3 November 2012
Released under the title `Mistress of Mourning' in the US, `The Queen's Confidante,' is written from the alternate perspective of both the widowed Westcott and Henry VII's Queen Elizabeth, the story tackles two questions which historians have been asking themselves for centuries. Did Prince Arthur really die from natural causes and who killed the little Princes in the Tower?
The widowed Varina has to keep her dead husband's shop going, to provide for her son, another Arthur, whilst she mourns the death of her youngest child, Edmund. A skilled candlemaker, Varina is unable to enter the guild as she is a woman and therefore contemplates marriage to the unpleasant Christopher Gage purely for security and an enhancement of her career.
When Queen Elizabeth, who in this novel is a haunted, guilt ridden figure, asks Varina to carve figures of her dead children and brothers, the latter becomes an unlikely confidante. Varina also comes into daily contact with Nick Sutton, a man she finds herself attracted to.
Then Prince Arthur is sent to Ludlow Castle with his new wife, the Princess Catherine of Aragon and dies there, at which the heartbroken and suspicions Queen despatches Varina and Nick to prepare the young man for burial, but also root out what really happened to her son.
Before long, Varina finds she is being watched and her enquires about herbs and poisons leads to the murder of the local wise woman and Varina herself is in danger.
Ms Harper's writing is accomplished and I became immersed in Varina's world quite easily, and her characters are engaging. Ms Harper does not attempt to answer the mystery of the Princes in the Tower, and the truth about Arthur is left open, but it serves its purpose as a Tudor murder mystery with royal connections, where fact and fiction is well handled, and maybe it really did happen in this way.
I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the candlemaker's craft, how wax is embedded in linen to be used for shrouds and the obscure rules that apply to how candles were made in the year 1501.
With the large number of recent novels set in Tudor times, from the literary works of Hilary Mantel to the popular imaginings of Philippa Gregory, I wondered if there was room for another author in this period. Harper has managed to find a new angle, though, using as first person narrator not only Elizabeth of York but a fictional woman of the artisan classes.
Varina Westcott is a handsome young widow, living comfortably in the City of London off the wax business that was her father's and her husband's. She has one son, Arthur, and is mourning her younger son Edmund. She is being courted by an apparently genial wealthy widower named Christopher but keeps putting him off. One day she is approached by two courtiers who take her to Westminster Palace to see the Queen, Elizabeth of York. She wants Varina to make life-sized wax images of her two dead children (one also called Edmund) and her two murdered brothers. Varina wonders if she is quite sane, but the two women are drawn together by their common loss.
As murder strikes at the heart of the Tudor household, Varina soon finds herself under threat and must act with her characteristic courage and daring to save both herself and the Tudor dynasty.
The ending is very rushed: one moment Varina and her son are walled up alive while the baddie -- an unrepentant Yorkist -- goes to kill the queen and Prince Henry (might have done the world a favour), the next she is freed by her love and the tables are turned. With one bound, Varina was free! The identity of the mole is the queen's household is also glaringly obvious.
I could do without affectations such as 'chapter the first' and there is the odd bit of unintentionally comical dialogue, but this is a very enjoyable read and I was turning the pages frantically towards the end. There is some geographical confusion: Richmond is upriver of London so boatmen would not 'struggle with the incoming tide' which would, on the contrary, carry them up to Richmond. Also, Ludlow is in England not Wales, although used as an administrative centre for Wales by the English crown.
The Queen's Confidante by Karen Harper was a really interesting look at the life of Queen Elizabeth and Henry VII. Why I loved this book so much was for the simple reason Karen Harper is one excellent author who has a passion for history which she puts across through her very vivid writing.
Not too often authors use a woman to source out the truth, the way she used candle maker Varina who has tragically lost her son to the dreaded sweating disease. Her pain of losing her son is made so clear through the author's writing therefore she fully knows how the Queen is suffering, this suffering has brought these two women to the same level and therefore they connect, for this one reason Queen Elizabeth sends Varina to source out the truth when she to loses a child who she loved dearly but the search for the truth proves to be more difficult than Varina could ever imagine as Elizabeth has more enemies than she first believed.
This is a fresh look at this era which makes it more interesting for me, facts have been mixed with fiction which I enjoyed reading from page one. The main reason I loved the book was the fantastic writing mixed with very believable characters which makes this one book I loved from the beginning.
I highly recommend The Queen's Confidante by Karen Harper to all readers who love historical fiction laced with historical facts which made this an excellent look at a period of history which has produced many questions throughout the years.
Another splendid book by Karen Harper.I do love her books,they are well researched and make good reading.
It is 1501 and the Wars of the Roses are over but there are still battles going on in secret.Queen Elizabeth of York and Henry V11 are on the throne.The heir to the throne has just died but Elizabeth fears he was murdered.She does not trust anyone.
Varina Westcott is a widow and candlemaker.Her son died too.One day a hooded lady asks her to meet the Queen as she wants some candles making.She is taken in great secrecy by Nick Sutton,a handsome man and softly spoken.
The Queen asks her to do some effigies of her dead children but it must all be in secret,nobody knows about it.The queen feels close to the effigies in a secret room where she alone can go and pray.
She feels a bond with Varina as they have both lost a child.As time goes on she asks Varina to help find her son Arthurs killer.
It all comes together when Varina dresses as a rough country man and her helper is Nick Sutton.Varina is put in all sorts of danger in the Welsh countryside.She witnesses the murder of her artist friend who has been used as a cover for her visits to the palace and fears for her own life and that of her son.This is a fast moving story almost breathless and very different to her other books.Fact and fiction abound but all very enjoyable and a good ending.Highly recommended.
I received this for evaluation by Vine
on 18 December 2014
As an avid reader of Tudor history encompassing biographies and fiction, i was interested in this book since the storyline offered an unusual perspective from the eyes of a candle maker and wax illustrator to Queen Elizabeth of York. I was disappointed- the story appeared superficial and predictable giving no sense of atmosphere. The book's central male character (apart from King Henry vii of course!) is one dashing Nick Sutton who resembles someone out of a Mills and Boon book.The book's heroine is Varina Westcott who can be admired for her strength of character and determination. However the story flits here and there and i found myself guessing the outcome and becoming frustrated as i wanted more depth of information, and i could not wait until the wretched thing was finished. One of my pet hates is to start a book and not finish it- so i therefore felt obliged. The books 'finale' i thought was rushed and ridiculous- even my sons of 12 and 13 would have laughed! For fans of Tudor history there are many far better authors about for example Philipa Gregory and Alison Weir. I can also recommend the enthralling first two books in a trilogy about Thomas Cromwell by Hilary Mantel. Other books i have by Karen Harper will be going in the bin.