The Red Queen's Daughter, by Jacqueline Kolosov
Bechdel test: pass
Mako Mori test: pass
Sexy Lamp test: pass
*Gasp!* A book review! I haven't posted one of these in weeks! (Which is really crummy of me. Sorry.)
On the DZA Review Scale, I give Jacqueline Kolosov's The Red Queen's Daughter a historically inaccurate awesome. (Anne Boleyn did not have a sixth finger on her right hand, nor did she have a mole on her neck. But hey, it's historical fiction, not a history textbook.)
The Red Queen's Daughters centers on Mary Seymour, the daughter of Queen Katherine Parr (Henry VIII's sixth and final wife) and Thomas Seymour. All of them were real people, but that's where the facts end. In this story, Mary is a "white magician," a sorceress for the forces of good who is sent to the court of Elizabeth I to guide and support her.
(Note: Mary is an English noblewoman and not a princess, despite the fact that her mother was a queen. At the time of Mary's birth, Katherine was a dowager queen--a king's widow, and therefore possessing no real political power, basically a retired queen--and her father was an English lord. Mary gets her status from her dad. Of course, had the two been reversed--Thomas a remarried king and Katherine a noble--Mary would have been a princess, just like Henry VIII's younger kids Elizabeth and Edward. Sexism: gotta love it.)
Despite the occasional historical inaccuracy and stilted dialogue, the story was quite good. It's a fantasy romance, and the romance takes place between two cousins. Which, ick, but that is actually historically accurate. And the guy she falls in love with is the villain. It's a bad boy romance.
The book is very slow in the beginning, which is weird for a YA novel. Mary doesn't get to court until over a third of the way through, and we don't meet the villain/love interest until two hundred pages in. After that, though, it picks up lightning quick.
Edmund Seymour is Mary's cousin and a "black magician," the exact opposite of Mary. He uses magic for personal gain, even rapes a girl (three times!) to get her pregnant so she's sent away from court. Then he tries to seduce Mary to get her inheritance (even though she's not a princess, she does have a sizable income and is an only child, with no direct male relative to get in the way). Of course, they fall in love with each other...but they don't have a happy ending.
What I like the most about this book is the fact that there is good and bad in every character. Edmund especially. 90% of everything we see and hear him do is rotten. Poisoning other courtiers to further his career, stealing from the royal treasury, raping a woman to get her pregnant and so ruin her life...this man has done some shady shit.
But, he saves the life of Mary's guardian and dearest friend at great cost and no benefit to himself. He genuinely falls in love with Mary. He jeopardizes (and eventually loses) his political career to make her happy. He's not an evil caricature. He has layers.
Jacqueline Kolosov does a great job of presenting the absolute shit hand women were dealt in the 16th Century. Mary has a complete aversion to love and marriage, on account of so many women in her life ripped off, even killed, as a direct result of love. Love makes people do stupid things, and Renaissance women couldn't afford to make any mistakes. So many marriages were the result of seductions so the men could get there hands on the inheritance (see: Edmund Seymour, Mary's father Thomas Seymour, all of Queen Elizabeth's suitors, etc.)
And even if everything goes perfectly right, if a woman does marry a man who genuinely loves and respects her, things can still go south overnight. If he dies (of plague, war, famine...) she's lost the person she's completely dependent on for financial support. If she gets pregnant, there is a good chance of her dying in childbirth. And Mary sees the worst of all of it.
Of course, she still falls in love with Edmund. She resists it at first. Then Robert Dudley convinces her to seduce him with her "womanly charms" to buy him time to collect evidence against Edmund that will lock him away. At that point, Mary admits to herself that she is in love. And she learns that that is not a bad thing. Elizabeth I was in love with Dudley (at least, in this story she was; historically speaking...yeah, she was probably in love with Dudley). Mary's nerdy friend Alice (who also opposes marriage) falls in love and marries a scholar/super-nerd to have little nerd-lettes.
Of course, if you fall in love with an evil jerk, who is your cousin, whom you are going to betray to foil his plans for world domination...yeah, that's a bad idea.
Love sucks, man.
You can purchase The Red Queen's Daughter on Amazon.com here.
Thanks for reading! :)