The Queen's Fool - Philippa Gregory I've been reading a lot of historical novels lately, and I quite enjoyed this one. While it has the familiar backdrop of Tudor England, with all the drama and heartbreak and beheadings you'd expect, the addition of an original character as the narrator gives the story new life. As a secret Jew pretending to be Christian, Hannah is uniquely placed to comment on the religious persecutions brought about by the Spanish Inquisition and, eventually, Queen Mary I. She's also an engaging and likeable character whose own story was often more interesting to me than the Tudors'. She would have made a great Young Adult heroine--this book would be a good Alex Award-type crossover, in fact.

I was also fascinated with the portrayal of Elizabeth in this novel. It is set before her reign begins, when she is a young princess not sure if she will ever win the throne. She's portrayed as a shameless flirt who ensnares other women's husbands for the pleasure of it, but when you look deeper you find a woman determined to use every scrap of power she has in order to survive in the (literally) cutthroat world she was born into. She knows better than most how quickly a country's favor can turn to or against a monarch, and during a time when she could have been declared a traitor and killed like so many others, her flirting and seducing might have saved her life.

Hannah's story, though, is what ultimately makes this book work. By showing us the perspective of someone other than the royal family and the court, we see how the grand drama of the monarchs affected the lives of the lesser-known citizens of the country. In a time when the country went from Catholic to Protestant and back again in a few short decades, your beliefs could cost you your life, and Hannah knows that better than anyone.