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Friday, December 27, 2013

Venus in Winter by Gillian Bagwell

Title: Venus In Winter
Author: Gillian Bagwell
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 412
How I Read It: ARC received from the publisher – The views expressed in my review are mine alone and I have received no compensation for these opinions.
My Rating: 4 Crowns!

Synopsis: On her twelfth birthday, Bess of Hardwick receives the news that she is to be a waiting gentlewoman in the household of Lady Zouche. Armed with nothing but her razor-sharp wit and fetching looks, Bess is terrified of leaving home. But as her family has neither the money nor the connections to find her a good husband, she must go to facilitate her rise in society.

When Bess arrives at the glamorous court of King Henry VIII, she is thrust into a treacherous world of politics and intrigue, a world she must quickly learn to navigate. The gruesome fates of Henry’s wives convince Bess that marrying is a dangerous business. Even so, she finds the courage to wed not once, but four times. Bess outlives one husband, then another, securing her status as a woman of property. But it is when she is widowed a third time that she is left with a large fortune and even larger decisions – discovering that, for a woman of substance, the power and the possibilities are endless...

*Synopsis taken from the book jacket

My Review: Although I have read plenty of Tudor fiction in the past, I haven’t read much about Bess of Hardwick, so I was thrilled with the opportunity to read this novel. What makes it even more fun is the author chose to start the book when Bess is just turning twelve, during a period of her life that is not as heavily documented, and while it uses the major points in her early life, there is room for dramatic license.

Bess is quickly sent off to serve in the house of Lady Zouche, which ultimately brings her to London and under the gaze of the court. We get to see the last three marriages of Henry VIII through her eyes, and witness her terror mounting as she sees the fate of Catherine Howard, wishing she herself could avoid getting married. However, Bess lives in a man’s world, and quickly learns that she’ll have to marry in order to avoid the same fate of her mother – a woman with a bunch of mouths to feed and no real income with which to do it.

Her first marriage doesn’t last long, with her husband falling ill and passing away about a year after they are married. His death sets Bess on a path towards being able to live independently if she would like to do so, as the laws at the time allowed for her to receive a third of the monies coming in from her husband’s estate. She ultimately decides to marry a second time, to William Cavendish, who proves to be a very loving and wonderful husband to her.

At this point in the novel, I started to cringe a little...not because of the writing or anything like that, but because I swear Bess is constantly pregnant. Her marriage to William lasts for ten years, and she has eight children during that period. I know the main goal of marriage during this time was to produce an heir, and the more children the better when it comes to that, but I still feel for any woman who becomes pregnant that many times!

The novel spends quite a bit of time with her third husband, William St. Loe, and is presented as a love match more than anything else. At this point in Bess’ life, it’s not likely she had to marry again, but likely she chose to for her love of Sir William. The couple had no children together, so this section was more focused on their relationship and the duties they performed for Queen Elizabeth I. By now, Bess had risen to being a lady in the service of the queen, which was one of the highest honors in the land, and quite an amazing climb considering where she started.

I quite enjoyed the novel, but I did have two small complaints with it. First, while the chapters did start with the date and location at the time, it felt like there was quite a bit missing. For example, during her marriage to Will Cavendish, it seemed like most of the chapters were focused on her pregnancies, but we didn’t necessarily get to see the children growing up. They were mentioned later on, but I would have liked to read a bit more about what Bess was like with them as they became toddlers and young children.

My other complaint is that the end felt rather abrupt. The novel doesn’t cover any of her fourth marriage to George Talbot, and while it is mentioned that he was courting her, there was hardly anything about the beginnings of their relationship. I think I would have liked it more had there been a little bit more of their courtship, to get more closure on her grief after the death of her third husband. Perhaps the author intends to write a sequel, which would be nice because I really liked the way this was written and how Bess was portrayed.

On the whole, a good read. I loved the somewhat outsiders take on Tudor England, and would be happy to see more of it!

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Mystica said...

I'd like to see the lives of the children in a sequel maybe?

Crystal - Princess of Pop Culture said...

That would be really great, I'm definitely interested in seeing what went on with them!