For Lady Katherine Grey, sister of Lady Jane Grey, Edward VI’s chosen heir, the Wars of the Roses lie in the past. Already, tales of Richard III are growing in exaggeration as the Tudor monarchs do their best to establish their rightful rule. For Katherine Plantagenet, illegitimate daughter of Richard III, the Wars of the Roses control her life, and she watches as her beloved father’s reputation sinks and her royal cousins vanish in real time. What ties these two women together is their curiosity and somehow urgent need to know what happened to the two little princes, as their individual dramas and struggles control their lives in the present.
I was sure I’d reviewed another of Alison Weir’s novels at one point or another, but I can’t find any that I’ve actually posted. Never mind – I’ve reviewed a number of her non-fiction books and I do tend to like them. I often find her fiction dry, though, and unfortunately A Dangerous Inheritance wasn’t an exception to that. I didn’t have any expectations going in, so I don’t think it’s down to a famous name. I think it was a combination of factors.
First, though, what I liked about the book. I love the way Weir throws in many details about the period. Right away I spotted that a jewel of Kate’s was clearly modelled after the Middleham Jewel. She uses real letters, real sources, and includes descriptions that simply feel spot on. I loved these details and knowing that Weir had researched this period to a degree where she could recreate what happened effectively.
The book also opens dramatically, setting up both Kate and Katherine’s stories in a way that immediately caught my attention. I was in particular interested in Katherine, because while I knew what happened to Jane, I couldn’t remember what happened to her sisters, and definitely didn’t predict Katherine’s life.
Unfortunately, after that, I felt that the book dragged on. Towards the middle, we reach a point where the women, though still teenagers, are both fixated and in love with men that they simply cannot have for different reasons. They seemed to spend an eternity pining for their respective lovers, to the degree that even while quite a bit else was happening, they languished over this for ages. I hardly felt like these wronged lovers really deserved much emotional attachment, and I ended up just wanting to know what happened to them at the end. Their relationships feel contrived, not genuine, and I think this held the book back.
Secondly, towards the end, when Katherine is putting together the story of the princes in the Tower, I quite frankly just got bored. She spends time reading all the big names and chronicles to see what happened, and then goes through a lengthy pages-long process justifying why ultimately she believes Thomas More and has come to the same conclusions as Weir herself. In non-fiction – fine, this is exactly what I want to read. In fiction – not so much. I wasn’t convinced by Katherine’s arguments, and as I actually haven’t read Weir’s own non-fiction book on the Wars of the Roses, I can’t comment on her views either.
Bizarrely, though the novel follows that extremely logical approach to determining what happened to the princes, it contains some oddly-placed supernatural elements, generally when one woman is in a place where something significant happened to the other. As I didn’t really get the connection between them anyway, these segments felt out of place. The connection seemed contrived to me; all the women had in common was their names and the fact that they were interested in the princes. Their positions were both close to the throne, but Kate would never be a threat to her father’s kingship, while Katherine’s life was dominated by the fact that she was very few steps from the throne at all times and was a potential magnet for discontented European and English powers.
Ultimately, I found A Dangerous Inheritance disappointing. I think I’ll stick to Weir’s non-fiction in the future.
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