Over the past year I've read most of Philippa Gregory's Tudor novels without ever really deciding whether I like them or not. The latest to fall into my hands is The Queen's Fool, which follows the life of Hannah Verde, a Jewish refugee from the Spanish Inquisition. It has all Gregory's traditional virtues: a claustrophobic sense of life at court, plausible and interesting representations of historical figures. Queen Mary's descent from the optimism with which she took the throne to her tyranny and miserable death is convincingly bleak; Princess Elizabeth's mixture of calculation and provocation is equally compelling; and if Robert Dudley is overdrawn as the rakish intriguer, at least he has style.
Where Gregory is on less certain ground is the character of Hannah herself--a fairly major problem given that she is the first-person protagonist. The way in which she flitted from one court to another, seemingly trusted by both sides, in itself strained credulity, but what I had trouble swallowing was her modern outlook. The idea of a woman independent in outlook and aspiration is not anachronistic (Gregory herself brings Bess of Hardwick, the exemplar of the type, to vigorous life in The Other Queen) but Hannah, at once shrewd and naive, never fully convinces. To this reader at least, she is a 21st-century feminist somehow lost in the 16th century. If you want to read a novel in which an independent female character still manages to feel at one with her historical context, I'd recommend instead Ann Weisgarber's The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, Alis Hawkins' Testament or Faye L. Booth's Cover the Mirrors: it's the kind of fiction Macmillan New Writing does particularly well.