Historical fiction about two royal Katherines: Richard III's baseborn daughter Katherine Plantagenet, and Henry VIII's grand-niece Katherine Grey. They lived several generations apart, yet there are similarities between them. Weir creates even more, inventing a love affair for Katherine Plantagenet to match Katherine Grey's idiotic passion for Edward Seymour and giving each of them an interest in the princes in the tower.
Katherine Grey has always been one of my least favorites: she doesn't seem to have been brilliant like her older sister Jane or her cousin(ish) Queen Elizabeth, and she was astoundingly awful at understanding court politics. At least Mary queen of Scots had moments of audacity--Katherine Grey seems to have continually stumbled from one poorly-understood ploy to the next. Like, check this: after watching Mary execute multiple
family members for messing with the succession, she's still stupid enough to switch her religion multiple times in obvious hopes of being more attractive to various factions. Then Elizabeth takes the throne, and Katherine conspires with the Spanish. Then she secretly marries a dude even after being reminded a million times by everyone that she can't marry without permission from the queen. She has sex with him all the time and gets pregnant. She keeps her pregnancy secret for like 8 months, at which point she confides in Lord Robert Dudley, literally the worst person in the world
to tell this kind of secret to. Naturally, Dudley tattles and Elizabeth sends her to the Tower, where it turns out that Katherine was *so* secret about her marriage that it's the easiest thing in the world for Elizabeth and her ministers to pretend no marriage ever took place, and that Katherine is a fornicator and her child a bastard. Then
, like the genius that Katherine is, she sneaks her husband into the Tower and she gets pregnanta again, never bothering to clear up whether she's truly married or, for that matter, getting married a second time to ensure this second child is clearly legitimate. Katherine then spends the rest of her life in captivity and eventually dies of what was probably tuberculosis. Her numbskullery is difficult to read in history books--when we're embedded in her thought process in a fictional story that strives to make her a sympethetic character, it's even more annoying.
Katherine Plantagenet is a bit more controlled. She seems blind in regards to her father, but given her youth and their relationship in this book it was understandable (if a bit frustrating). Very little is actually known about Katherine, however: not her birthdate, not her mother's identity, not whether she had children or when she died. Guesses to her birthdate can be made, in that it has to be somewhere between her father's birthdate and her own marriage, and her mother might have been one of several women her father gave grants to. All that we really know about Katherine is that she married William Herbert in May 1484, her father Richard III granted them several manors and cash, and that she was dead by 1487, when her husband was described as a widower. Weir makes up everything else about Katherine, and although she comes across as pretty well-rounded, it's annoying to know that it's all just guess-work, especially since Katherine Grey's section is well-founded in fact. Even some of Katherine Grey's words are exactly as she wrote them!
Also annoying is the connection Weir invents between the Katherines: she has Katherine Grey repeatedly visited by ghosts, or glimpsing or feeling Katherine's presence. It added a layer of falsity to an already strained story. When Weir is working with historical fact, her storytelling style is on much firmer ground. I wish she would go back to writing histories instead of historical fiction, but at least it's better than Phillipa Gregory's work.