I’ve got to get this out of the way up front so I can praise the book properly. The narrator on the audiobook version of this is terrible. She’s fine when simply narrating. She does a good job there. But every time a direct quote comes up, be it from Elizabeth or any number of her contemporaries — and this is virtually every other paragraph in the book — the narrator slips into her approximation of what that voice may sound like, and for some reason everyone comes across as incredibly elderly with a weird French / Romanian accent. If the quote is from a younger woman, it’s the same voice, only higher pitched, and without the old rasp on it. Worse still, because English is a language in serious flux at this point, nothing is spelled consistently, and it’s like the narrator is trying to mispronounce words on purpose to get that point across. For example, we say “queen,” but if Elizabeth writes “quene” on a document, the narrator tries a different way of saying it. It’s awkward. If I had to listen to this book in more than 30-40 minute segments, I’d probably not have finished it in this format. As it was, two more chapters, and I might have been tempted to call upon the Dark Side of the Force because first thing in the morning, that gets old quick. Mercifully, my commute isn’t any longer than that, and the material itself FAR exceeds the narrator’s limited *ahem* talents. Just how good is that material that it makes me want to fight through the narrator to hear it?
Ok, let’s talk about the book itself. Alison Weir’s books on Henry VIII, his wives, and his children are among my favorites when it comes to history texts. That she should write one on Henry’s mother means I’ll naturally gravitate to it. Weir does something with history that I feel is almost a lost art. She makes it personable. History should be more than names and dates. It should be motive, cause and effect, emotion, personality. It should live. Weir does that. History isn’t an exact science. The “facts” are mutable and perspective defines reality depending on who tells the story and how. It used to be that historians would identify what the known facts were, but in a case study such as with Elizabeth of York, there is also a great deal of the puzzle that is missing. Historians have to put the puzzle together and draw conclusions, and it only sells if it’s controversial and rejected by other historians. Weir sites other historians’ conclusions, and while she doesn’t draw any controversies here, she does state where her opinions differ and why.
The end result is that we walk away with a three dimensional portrait of what the first Tudor queen was like, from her early days in the midst of the Wars of the Roses, through her ascension to the throne, and all the way to her death. More than that, we learn a great deal about the people in her life and the events that shaped them all. Little aspects of her life and times are drawn from such sources as poems, dedications, letters, accounting budgets, her Book of Hours… the list goes on. The level of detail is nothing short of overwhelming, but in Weir’s capable hands, the picture becomes clear and vibrant, not only for Elizabeth, but for all of the other major players as well.
For narrative history, Weir is one of my go-to authors. Like her other Tudor books, you can pick up one of her books knowing nothing and walk away conversational on the topic, not just because there’s a lot in there, but because she makes you want to engage with the material. Hers is history for the enthusiast. This book would easily be 5 stars if not for the narrator, which hasn’t been an issue on any of her other titles thus far. More of Weir’s work is in my wish list for that reason. I just have to get to it. A print copy will find its way to my home library soon as well.