Synopsis from Goodreads: England’s Tower of London was the terrifying last stop for generations of English political prisoners. A Dangerous Inheritance weaves together the lives and fates of four of its youngest and most blameless: Lady Katherine Grey, Lady Jane’s younger sister; Kate Plantagenet, an English princess who lived nearly a century before her; and Edward and Richard, the boy princes imprisoned by their ruthless uncle, Richard III, never to be heard from again. Across the years, these four young royals shared the same small rooms in their dark prison, as all four shared the unfortunate role of being perceived as threats to the reigning monarch.
My Rating: 4/5 stars
My Review: I don’t care for an unsolved mystery; never have, never will. I generally find the answer to the mystery far more interesting than the allure of not ever knowing. (yep, you guessed it, I don’t like surprises either) With this being said, Alison Weir’s A Dangerous Inheritance is so entertaining I was able to forget my great dislike for unsolved mysteries.
A Dangerous Inheritance is a sweeping historical fiction novel dealing with the still-unsolved mystery of the fate of the two young princes in the tower of London. Rather than simply telling the princes story from their perspective (which would have been difficult since they were only children when they disappeared) Weir connects two generations of royal women who tell the story of the boys as it related to their own lives. Here’s the skinny:
Kate Plantagenet is the bastard daughter of King Richard III, England’s last Plantagenet king and the man in power when the young princes went missing. Though a bastard by birth, Kate is favored by her father and when he takes the throne, Kate’s status throughout the kingdom is decidedly elevated. For the entirety of her life, Kate has adored her father, a man who is gentle, kind and caring to both his legitimate and illegitimate children. Once in power the man Kate has known her whole life becomes someone very different and it is hard for Kate to reconcile the two disparate natures of her own father. Furthermore, Kate finds it hard to imagine he is anything like the rumors she is hearing about him: did he really take the throne by force thus becoming known as the Usurper? Is he really capable of all the betrayal and double-dealing that is constantly talked about? Could he really have killed the two young princes in order to remove any threat to his claim to the throne? For Kate the fate of the princes is tied to the image of her father and she becomes near-obsessed with finding out what really happened to them.
Just a few generations following Kate Plantagenet’s death there is Katherine Grey, sister to Lady Jane Grey (the ultimately beheaded nine day Queen) and a young woman who is, by virtue of her birth, eligible to inherit the English throne much to the great displeasure of Elizabeth I. Katherine’s life is a constant series of questions: will she or won’t she be officially recognized as the heir to the throne? Should she remain Protestant as she was raised? Would it be better (read: safer) to convert to Catholicism? Will any of her constantly surveyed actions lead her straight to the Tower of London where she will meet the same fate as her sister? Like the two young princes generations before her, Katherine’s life is in constant turmoil because of her claim to the throne; that is, her very existence is a threat to the ruling monarch. When Katherine stumbles upon a portrait of Kate Plantagenet and a bundle of the girls’ letters and notes she, like her predecessor becomes obsessed with the fate of the young boys.
The novel alternates from chapter to chapter between Kate and Katherine with Kate living through the making of the mystery and Katherine living a few generations later and finding parallels in her own life to that of both Kate Plantagenet and the young princes. Both women are products of their time and place and are often used as pawns in the games being played by the men in their lives. Like the princes before them, both young women were destined to live short and disturbingly sad lives because of their nearness to the throne.
The Bottom Line: Although there are some very dry moments in this novel it is, overall a very interesting read and will certainly appeal to enthusiasts of the mystery of the princes and England’s Tudor age. Since both of the primary characters have (basically) the same name the shorter chapters can be a bit frustrating to remember which Kate and which age you are reading about. On the flip side, the longer chapters will draw you in and Weir’s writing style will allow you to become completely absorbed in both the time and the place. The last third of the novel moves very swiftly as each young woman’s story (and the prince’s story) reaches its inevitable end. While I can’t say I was rooting for either of the Kates I can certainly say was taken in by both women and consumed with wanting to know their respective fates. While this novel is certainly appropriate for a young adult reader I think, given the overall length and subject matter, it is more appropriate for an older crowd.