There is a lot I could pick on in this novel. The protagonist, Hannah Verde, is a suspiciously progressive-thinking young Jewish girl living in England to escape the Spanish Inquisition. Although her personality is wildly anachronistic for the time period, she’s an engaging enough heroine. The plot depends on the contrivance that Hannah somehow becomes a close attendant to both Mary I and her half-sister the Lady Elizabeth. Despite knowing that Mary would have her burned at the stake if she knew of her religion, she is improbably devoted to her. And if this were not enough to stretch credibility, Hannah is also gifted with the supernatural gift of “the Sight.” Yet despite all of this, The Queen’s Fool is an entertaining page-turner of a historical romance/thriller.
Hannah is the eyes through which we see the rivalry between Mary I, gifted with the unfortunate name of “Bloody Mary” by posterity, and her sister the celebrated future Elizabeth I. The author is obviously biased in favor of Mary, which is not entirely unfair as Mary arguably possessed more personal virtues than Elizabeth. But the extent to which Elizabeth is vilified is ridiculous. The smear campaign begins when Hannah sees the fourteen-year old Elizabeth engaged in sexually-charged “games” with Sir Thomas Seymour, husband of her guardian Catherine Parr. It is stated several times throughout the book that Elizabeth somehow encouraged this behavior, and is later used as evidence that Elizabeth is a chronic home-wrecker who enjoys stealing other women’s husbands. While it is true that Elizabeth enjoyed relationships with married men in her reign, most infamously Robert Dudley, I found the notion that at age fourteen she seduced the man who abused his position as her guardian and probably molested her rather offensive.
Apart from the less-than-ideal characterization of Elizabeth, the book is entertaining and compulsively readable. The better portrayals are actually of lesser-known historical figures, like the late King Henry VIII’s jester Will Sommers and John Dee, mathematician and astrologer extraordinaire. Serious history this is not, but as a light bit of fluff with a backdrop of familiar Tudor characters it works well.