09 February 2008

What I am Reading--The Redheaded Princess

It took me about forty pages to warm to this historical novel about a teenage Elizabeth Tudor, mainly because author Ann Rinaldi did such a poor job of establishing the narrator's voice. Elizabeth is old beyond her years, and not just because children were forced to grow up faster. At eight years of age she is expressing love for an admired member of her father's court, and it is as if Rinaldi has lost track of her narrator's age. Dialogue between Elizabeth and her younger brother Edward sounds as if it is exchanged between grown-ups, rather than tweenies (which they are at the start of the story--forsooth!) The book vacilates between juvenile and young adult suitability. But once it becomes clear that this is a YA book, both in content and style (again, it took about 40 pages, so be patient,) this is an engrossing story of political machinations, love affairs, and family dysfunction. Despite the fact that we know Elizabeth will go on to become one of England's most influential monarchs, it is fascinating watching her walk the tightrope between familial sentiment and survival.

Elizabeth is portrayed as a wise and wily young woman, mindful of her place while out of favor, but never forgetful that she could very well be queen one day. She watches her rivals get their turn at the throne, and then fall through one means or another (some natural, others, as in the case of the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey, unnatural.) Supporting characters in the book, of which there are many, are well-rounded. Rinaldi manages to avoid caricature when portraying larger than life figures like Henry VIII. In the end, The Redheaded Princess is worth the effort and will reward readers with a fresh look at one of the most fascinating political dynasties in history.

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