Before I read this book, I wasn't really interested in historical fiction. I had thought about reading some, and there were particular books where I had really expressed some interest in reading them, but hadn't got around to it. I had been interested in Philippa Gregory's books in particular because she is quite well known for thoroughly researching her topics, something which was particularly important to me as one of the main reasons I had avoided historical fiction was because I have issues with British history. I know about many of the events that have happened, but when they happened gets jumbled up in my head. Obviously I chose Geography instead of History for GCSE!
I picked up The Constant Princess after asking a fellow librarian which book from Gregory's repertoire I should read first. Gregory has written many books spanning many generations of British history, and I was interested particularly in her collections based upon the Tudor period and the cousin's war (War of the Roses).
One thing to note about Gregory is that she hasn't written these series' in chronological order, in fact she has written theTtudor novels before the cousin's war, which preceded the Tudors. This obviously is a pain if you aren't sure what order the events actually occurred in history, but luckily I have people who do know! My librarian friend actually recommended I read The Lady of the Rivers first, the third installment of the cousin's war collection, as that was the oldest generation of character so to speak, but at the time it had only just been released and the waiting list was huge. Instead I chose to read the Tudor court novels before the collection of books about the War of the Roses. In a way I wish I hadn't made that choice, because although I was reading roughly in the order they were written, it did make it harder to follow everything.
The tudor court novels feature The Constant Princess, centred around Catharine of Aragon, The Other Boleyn Girl, centered around Anne and Jane Boleyn, and the Boleyn Inheritance, following Henry VIII's wives after Anne Boleyn. If you weren't aware, The Other Boleyn Girl was actually made into a film a few years ago, and I personally felt I knew a fair amount about Anne Boleyn from history classes, but Catharine of Aragon I knew next to nothing about. I knew she was Henry VIII's first wife, but nothing more.
Discovering that she was a Spanish princess, originally named Catalina, and originally married to Henry VIII's older brother Arthur certainly made things seem interesting, and although Gregory has padded out the bare bones of history and made the whole situation into a tragic story of love and determination, I really felt while reading that Catalina was a strong, determined woman, a writing skill which must be applauded as this helps the reader to want her to succeed.
I will admit that initially the story was hard going, mainly because it is a subject area I am far from familiar with, but because I love to research I was continually fact checking while reading, trying to suss out which parts of Gregory's story were drawn from absolute fact, which from conjecture, and which from the depths of her imagination. I felt the ending was rather stunted also, it moves rapidly into the realm of The Other Boleyn Girl, and I would have much rather have read some of those events from Catharine's perspective.
Overall I would say that despite a slightly difficult start and an abrupt ending, the in between in this story is wonderful. If you have never tried historical fiction before and want to give it a go, give Gregory's stories a try.