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Customer Review

on 22 May 2014
An excellent example of the genre. I haven't read much historical fiction, but loved Fremantle's first (about Katherine Parr) and also some of Philippa Gregory's series about the Cousins War.

Sisters of Treason is absolutely fascinating. Who designs the school history curriculum? They need to try and include more of the minor stories in schemes of work because they are riveting. We have all probably heard of Lady Jane Grey, Queen for nine days then beheaded by Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII. This book picks up at the execution and then follows on the skirt-tails of Jane's sisters, Katherine and Mary, and family friend Levina, real-life portrait painter to the court.

It's as readable as any fictional thriller. Mary suffers from a condition that has left her the size of a five-year-old and with a deformed spine. Katherine is a renowned beauty. Both fear that Jane's fate will also befall them as others plot around them to raise a new Queen. And this doesn't end with the death of Mary as her sister Elizabeth takes the throne and proves just as brutal in her way.

The three-way narrative works well, moving the action from place to place in Tudor England. I don't think I've learnt so much history in terms worth of lessons at school. Even knowing that the conversations are all fictitious, the endnotes give a useful potted biography of almost every character in the book and show just how closely Fremantle has kept to history. There is also a lovely family tree at the front showing just how closely related the Greys, Tudors, and Stuarts are, and why it is that there was such a skirmish for the throne of England.

Mary is the most sympathetic character, being both intelligent and sneered at. Her enviable (in some ways) position at the very centre of court life was both permanently a threat but also an amazing position of influence of observation. Katherine's story is in some ways more shocking for its ultimate direction. She grows up through the story from lovesick teenager to world-weary woman. Veena (Levina), their family friend, offers us insight into professional working women of the period and another perspective on Tudor politics.

Some shocking stuff happens to the Greys. I couldn't believe it was real but a check showed, lo and behold, it was. And Levina's painting is also real, and quite beautiful. The Elizabethan Age may have been a golden one for literature and discovery but it was still very much the dark ages if you were any sort of threat to those who ruled.

Begging to be televised. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it if you like historical fiction. Amazing story of real women and how power is used.

Review of a Goodreads giveaway copy.
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