Two of my midpoint reads have a theme in common besides being works of historical fiction; both deal with young women thrust into power plays between rising political forces of their time. For example, The Barefoot Queen by Ildefonso Falcones has an unlikely bond form between two very different women in Spain of 1748.
Caridad is a Cuban slave, freed by the death of her master aboard ship, and on her own in Seville with no friends or family to help her find her way. After a series of rough encounters and rejections, she is taken in by a gypsy elder,Melchor, who finds her singing voice beautiful and her skills as a cigar maker most profitable.
That attempt at retribution goes from bad to worse, forcing both of them to stay apart from one another for a time. Milagros takes up an apprenticeship as a medicine woman as part of the price she has to pay to make up for her instigating, something that troubles one of her admirers, Fray Joaquin:
While Falcones does invoke the time period,as well as cultural struggles of the gypsies, very well, it does take some patience to follow this lengthy narrative along. It's not a dull read,although rather harsh at certain points to the main characters, yet the pace is a bit too slow and steady.
I do intend to finish it, hopefully in time to pick up the author's earlier novel Cathedral by the Sea, before summer starts but The Barefoot Queen does have some considerable charms that make it worth taking your time with it. I just wish that the flow of the story was more unputdownable.
A more compelling page turner, Philippa Gregory's The White Princess is the second to last title in the author's series about The Cousin's War, which leads to the reign of Henry the Eighth.
The eldest daughter of the fallen House of York, Elizabeth is forced in more ways than one to take Henry Tudor as her king and husband. In fear of what may happen to her other siblings, such as her two brother taken into the Tower of London to never be seen again, she takes up her reluctant mantle of power, such as it is.
Despite her forbidden love for the vanquished king Richard, her uncle, she makes herself endure all of the indignities that go along with being co-opted into the graces of the ruling Tudors, especially her vindictively mad mother-in-law:
Gregory is a sure hand by now at depicting the difficulties of women made to be the power either behind or held up as trophies to the throne of England.
Her story telling style is quickly engaging and while she may be too pro-York for some history buffs, she knows how to make her leading ladies on either side of the fence equally as engaging in their stance to make their mark upon the monarchy.
As this book will soon take us to her comfort zone of Henry VIII(The King's Curse is due in paperback in April), this set-up is one her devoted readers, such as myself, are bound to enjoy. I'm pretty sure that I'll be ready for the next book very soon:
Reading about women,fictional or otherwise, back in those days certainly makes you appreciate all of the hard earned freedoms our gender has won(and is still fighting for) over the decades. While being a pretty princess does sound like fun, it's not as easy or as dress up party time as it seems to be. That doesn't mean we can't enjoy a good story about royal ladies but such things do need to be taken with a grain of salt as well as a well balanced book on top of your head: