6th Sep 2012
A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir
Particularly known for her biographical works on medieval and early-modern women, Alison Weir has covered subjects including the Tudor monarchs and the mystery of the Princes in the Tower.
Diversifying into historical fiction, her first novel, Innocent Traitor (2006) focused on the story of Lady Jane Grey, the tragic nine-day Queen. In her latest, A Dangerous Inheritance, it is Jane’s sister Katherine, a possible heir to Queen Elizabeth I, who takes centre stage.
However, Katherine’s is not the only story we’re presented with in this novel. It sometimes feels as though you can’t just have one narrative in a novel these days: rather, the protagonist must uncover a mystery from the past connected to another female character they can learn from – and so it is here.
We are also introduced to Kate Plantagenet, the bastard daughter of Richard III, who lived in the same house as Katherine, and who left behind a mysterious package of letters and a locket that may hold clues as to what really happened to the Princes in the Tower.
The two women’s lives and flow easily together as the parallels between them are drawn out. It is a masterstroke of Weir’s to use a trend popular in contemporary fiction, but within the historical genre: A Dangerous Inheritance feels like two excellent histories in one, rather than a clunky attempt to wield a literary device.
By comparing two stories, one of the late Tudor period and one from 1483, the book is able to show the ways in which the lives of women – albeit very privileged ones – changed over the course of the era.
It is hard not to feel sorry for the tragic Katherine, the tool of powerful men with little to say for herself, but Kate is occasionally comically naïve in her refusal to see her father’s scheming for the throne for what it is.
The book turns from a thriller to a love story, as both Katherine and Kate are prevented by their royal blood from marrying the men they love, but sadly both heroes come across as flat and uninspiring, so that, from a romantic angle, this book falls short. Weir’s exploration of the deep psychological changes effected on the nation by the religious upheavals of the 1530s, however, is particularly successful.
Fans of Alison Weir’s earlier novels will not be disappointed, but be warned, this book is far from a quick read, and is often slow-paced: either eBook it, or wait for the paperback.
Recommended for: fans of historical fiction and the Tudor period.