Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle
Selected, for the fourth year running, as one of the annual World Book Night distributors of free books, I was sent 20 copies of Elizabeth Fremantle’s debut novel Queen’s Gambit. Not a title I personally selected, but one of the 20 available on the prescribed list.
For those not familiar with World Book Night, this annual ‘festival of reading’ began four years ago in a bid to encourage the nation (particularly reluctant readers) to read more books. And who can resist being offered a free copy of a new book? The emphasis, however, has resolutely been directed towards the reluctant reader, so the selection of titles has had to reflect the nature of the proposed readership……not too long, enjoyable and easy to read, and in a reader-friendly format.
And that is exactly what Fremantle’s first novel is……..a historical romance based on the final episode of King Henry VIII’s life, when he marries Katherine Parr, his sixth and final wife. I cannot vouch for the extent to which the author sticks to historical sources, but she claims to be largely faithful to the facts that she researched, allowing herself the freedom of the fictional literary device of filling in the gaps to create an entertaining read.
This cannot stand up to the acclaimed grandeur of Hilary Mantel’s prose but, I am sure, it was not intended to. Mantel’s fictional writing, anyway, is definitely not accessible to the masses nor, indeed, liked by everyone. I for one, am not one of her admirers, despite her Man Booker successes. Fremantle’s prose, however, is very accessible, and could prove to be a good introduction to historical fiction for those who have yet to dip the toe.