Sisters of TreasonBy Elizabeth Fremantle
Simon and Schuster, July 2014
About the Book
Early in Mary Tudor’s turbulent reign, Lady Catherine and Lady Mary Grey are reeling after the brutal execution of their elder seventeen-year-old sister, Lady Jane Grey, and the succession is by no means stable. In Sisters of Treason, Elizabeth Freemantle brings these young women to life in a spellbinding Tudor tale of love and politics.
Neither sister is well suited to a dangerous life at court. Flirtatious Lady Catherine, thought to be the true heir, cannot control her compulsion to love and be loved. Her sister, clever Lady Mary, has a crooked spine and a tiny stature in an age when physical perfection equates to goodness—and both girls have inherited the Tudor blood that is more curse than blessing. For either girl to marry without royal permission would be a potentially fatal political act.
It is the royal portrait painter, Levina Teerlinc, who helps the girls survive these troubled times. She becomes their mentor and confidante, but when the queen’s sister, the hot-headed Elizabeth, inherits the crown, life at court becomes increasingly treacherous for the surviving Grey sisters. Ultimately each young woman must decide how far she will go to defy her queen, risk her life, and find the safety and love she longs for.
At first I thought Levina an odd choice as co-narrator, but she serves as a much-needed balance to Catherine’s “irrepressible sense of fun”. Steady, independent, and loyal, Levina tries to protect the girls as much as she can, particularly after the untimely death of their mother. But she does this at great cost to herself.
I was captured by the relationship between Levina and her husband George, which was often rocky, and I was sorry that we see relatively little of it because I thought it a fascinating dynamic: a sixteenth-century working woman and the price she ultimately pays for her independence. Obviously this book is primarily about the Grey girls, so Levina’s story comes only in highlights, but I thought Levina a wonderful and unusual observer with her painter’s eye revealing much about the characters of the Tudor court. I would have loved to see even more through her eyes.
This is an engaging look into a troubled family who is deemed guilty by association and lives in fear most of their lives. Fremantle makes these women come alive, giving voices to those whose stories are largely lost to time. Their tales are seamless, with one picking up after the other leaves off, and Fremantle achieves a balance of the three perspectives that is remarkable. The reader gets a deep sense of their dilemma and how their lives are forever altered because of it. Highly recommended!
Rebecca Henderson Palmer