A fortuitous encounter with Thomas Cromwell results in Katherine (Kat) Chapernowne, an educated "nobody" from the wilds of Devon, entering the service of the new queen, Anne Boleyn. The two women become friends, and at the end of the queen's brief reign, Kat promises to protect Anne's young daughter Elizabeth. Appointed Elizabeth's governess, Kat serves the princess with a devotion and dedication that complicates and often endangers her own life. For twenty years they weather together the ups and downs of Elizabeth's fate, moving in and out of the line of succession, suffering exile and imprisonment as often as favor and security. Elizabeth's true mother in all but blood, Kat alone is able to protect the princess from those who would destroy her--and tame the headstrong whims that threaten to rob Elizabeth of the throne she fights so hard to gain.
Ms. Harper has given us a new take on the Tudors by telling their story from the viewpoint of a character whose voice had yet to be heard. Kat tells the story in the first person; although this is limiting at times since she is often separated from Elizabeth, it provides an adult perspective on Elizabeth's youth and an entry into her emotional development. Yet this is Kat's story as much as it is Anne's or Elizabeth's. Motivated at first by her desire to escape obscurity, Kat spies and deals secrets in order to climb the social ladder. Eventually, the ruthlessness and variability of the Tudor court repulse her; love for her husband John Ashley and for her charge Elizabeth mutes and ultimately replaces her ambition. Well-acquainted with the ways of the world, Kat advises Elizabeth against the wiles of the power-hungry and helps shape her into the queen she will become.
Motherhood proves to be an all-important theme. Anne, though her execution occurs in the opening chapter of the book, remains a forceful presence throughout. The ring she gives Kat to keep for Elizabeth, a clever locket that conceals miniatures of Anne and her daughter, leaves Kat's finger only to adorn Elizabeth's person; the doomed queen appears repeatedly in dreams and warnings to both Kat and Elizabeth, refusing to rest until Elizabeth assumes the throne. Kat is Elizabeth's only link to her mother, for everyone else, especially King Henry, disparages Anne in order to prevent Boleyn "faults" from manifesting themselves in Elizabeth. Ever an admirer of Anne's courage and intelligence, Kat alone fosters the strengths Elizabeth inherits from her mother. Robbed of her own mother just like Elizabeth, Kat understands what the princess feels and needs. Her love is the only stable haven Elizabeth has in an ever-changing world.
Ms. Harper, who has written extensively on the Elizabethan era (she has authored novels about Mary Boleyn and William Shakespeare, as well a nine-book series of Elizabeth I mysteries) creates a world that is thoroughly engaging and fully believable. She knows her characters well and sketches the political intrigues of the Tudor court with a sure hand. An excellent read, THE QUEEN'S GOVERNESS will, without a doubt, become a classic of Tudor-era historical fiction.
Learn more about Ms. Harper, who also writes contemporary thrillers, at her website.