Book Review: The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory (3/5)

21 Oct

I seem to grab a Philippa Gregory book every year just to knock one off of the When Are You Reading? Challenge. No shame. She’s one of my favorite writers and it gives me a good reason to revisit her at least annually.

Cover image via Goodreads

The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels #7)

Other books by Gregory reviewed on this blog:

The Lady of the Rivers (3/5)
The Boleyn Inheritance (4/5)
The Other Queen (3/5)

Summary from Goodreads:

Regarded as yet another threat to the volatile King Henry VII’s claim to the throne, Margaret Pole, cousin to Elizabeth of York (known as the White Princess) and daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, is married off to a steady and kind Lancaster supporter—Sir Richard Pole. For his loyalty, Sir Richard is entrusted with the governorship of Wales, but Margaret’s contented daily life is changed forever with the arrival of Arthur, the young Prince of Wales, and his beautiful bride, Katherine of Aragon. Margaret soon becomes a trusted advisor and friend to the honeymooning couple, hiding her own royal connections in service to the Tudors.

After the sudden death of Prince Arthur, Katherine leaves for London a widow, and fulfills her deathbed promise to her husband by marrying his brother, Henry VIII. Margaret’s world is turned upside down by the surprising summons to court, where she becomes the chief lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine. But this charmed life of the wealthiest and “holiest” woman in England lasts only until the rise of Anne Boleyn, and the dramatic deterioration of the Tudor court. Margaret has to choose whether her allegiance is to the increasingly tyrannical king, or to her beloved queen; to the religion she loves or the theology which serves the new masters. Caught between the old world and the new, Margaret Pole has to find her own way as she carries the knowledge of an old curse on all the Tudors.

Nothing’s short in a Gregory novel, even the description. That’s one of my chief complaints in this book. It was just too long and there was too much detail. It felt at times like Gregory didn’t want a single piece of her research to be missed from the book and at times it read more like a history text than a novel because of it. I’d love to see her go after something more fictional. Pole’s personality seems to be fabricated, but almost every move she makes seems straight out of history.

The people all seemed true to their historical selves and I appreciated that but it did feel like they were missing some level of life, the element that takes historical people off of a page and brings them to life. Jeffrey is the main exception, I thought he was very well drawn. I wish that the same vividness had been brought to all the characters.

Philippa Gregory
Image via Fantastic Fiction

Reginald was easily my favorite character early on but he faded away from the story a lot as it went on. He’s arguably the most historically important of Margaret’s children, but his major role in English history would come after her death and as this is her story, he doesn’t get his moment.

Margaret was not a character I related to. She felt entitled her entire life and dealt with setback after setback without moving forward which drove her to scheme and plot and plan. I’ve never felt the need to do anything similar. Her age was another reason I didn’t connect. Her children and their successes were so important to her and I had nothing to compare that to at this stage in my life.

The ending caught me off guard and I enjoyed the surprise it brought. It was a strong reminder of how surprising the reign of Henry VIII was for the whole country and for those who had grown up with his father. He’s so sensational and that’s why we know so much about him. Living with that sensational change probably wasn’t as exhilarating.

Many of Gregory’s books focus on similar people and I feel she’s portrayed them the same in each book. Anne Boleyn and Katherine of Aragon are two that come to mind. I’ve seen these women before and know how they’ll be portrayed and it takes a lot of fun out of the book. I think the unknown elements of history that could have given us insights into their personalities and secrets could have been changed and made the story more fun.

Bianca Amato narrated the audio and I think she was a fine choice. She gave Margaret the airs I assume she must have had with her position and birth. She seems a good age to have told the story as well. We meet Margaret in her late 20s and leave her in her 60s with a large focus on her 40s so Amato’s mature and serious voice was a good fit for the story.

I’m not sure what I’d say the theme for this book is. Loyalty seemed to be a good one until the last third of the novel. Margaret’s loyalty seemed to be her undoing at the end of her life. She lived in a very volatile time and dealt with it as best she could while being herself as much as she could. Maybe survival is the best theme, but it wasn’t as successful as you’d think by me picking it as a theme.

Writer’s Takeaway: There’s a balance between a story and it’s characters. I didn’t feel it was well struck here. The plot was far more central to the story than the people in it and I felt the book suffered because of it. I would have liked more of a personality out of Margaret and her family. This was too much of a history book for me.

Enjoyable but not her best work. Three out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the 1500-1699 time period for the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
Book Review – ‘The King’s Curse’ by Philippa Gregory | Tudor Blogger
Discussion Questions- The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory | Tudor Blogger
The King’s Curse – Philippa Gregory | Northern Reader
The King’s Curse-Philippa Gregory: Truth is Stranger than Fiction | Elaine Donadio Writes
The King’s Curse – England – Philippa Gregory | the book trail


8 Responses to “Book Review: The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory (3/5)”

  1. Colline October 21, 2019 at 12:16 PM #

    I haven’t read this one of hers yet.


    • Sam October 21, 2019 at 12:30 PM #

      I don’t think it was as big of a release as many others. It’s a few years old as well. Happy reading!


  2. higgy88 October 21, 2019 at 5:12 PM #

    Interesting review. This book has been on my TBR pile for way too long but my mother in law basically told me the whole book and it rather put me off reading it sadly.


    • Sam October 21, 2019 at 8:13 PM #

      I can see that. Knowing how it ends would probably keep me from reading. It dragged on a bit too long I’m afraid. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. jessicabookworm October 28, 2019 at 5:40 AM #

    I’m sorry to hear this was a little disappointing for you Sam. I haven’t read any of Gregory’s Tudor novels. Instead I have been working my way through her War of the Roses novels: The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Lady of the Rivers, so far. I have loved them all. Looking forward to reading The Kingmaker’s Daughter next. 🙂


    • Sam October 28, 2019 at 6:20 AM #

      I liked some of those more than others. The Lady of the Rivers I remember liking more than The Red Queen. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person


  1. Challenge Update, October 2019 | Taking on a World of Words - November 4, 2019

    […] The King’s Curse // Philippa Gregory (3/5) A Conjuring of Light // V.E. Schwab (4/5) We Sold Our Souls // Grady Hendrix (4/5) When I Crossed No-Bob // Margaret McMullan (3/5) The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy (3/5) Beautiful Ruins // Jess Walter (4/5) […]


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