Venus in Winter
by Gillian Bagwell
Page Count: 448
Release Date: July 2, 2013
How got: personal buy via Amazon
First attention getter: obscure female historical figure
On her twelfth birthday, Bess of Hardwick receives the news that she is to be a waiting gentlewoman in the household of Lady Zouche. Armed with nothing but her razor-sharp wit and fetching looks, Bess is terrified of leaving home. But as her family has neither the money nor the connections to find her a good husband, she must go to facilitate her rise in society.
When Bess arrives at the glamorous court of King Henry VIII, she is thrust into a treacherous world of politics and intrigue, a world she must quickly learn to navigate. The gruesome fates of Henry’s wives convince Bess that marrying is a dangerous business. Even so, she finds the courage to wed not once, but four times. Bess outlives one husband, then another, securing her status as a woman of property. But it is when she is widowed a third time that she is left with a large fortune and even larger decisions—discovering that, for a woman of substance, the power and the possibilities are endless . . .
Star Rating - 2.5
A book purported to be about Bess of Hardwick, I looked forward to exploring the life of such an important figure in female history during the Elizabethan age. From what I've gleaned from Wikipedia and other research sources, I knew her to come from rough beginning to rise as one of the wealthiest women of her era, ancestress of throne claimants. However, what I got from this book was the history of the Tudors through the eyes of an onlooker. NOT what I wanted from this title…
I will say the author does a great job with historical details and scene setting. I got a clear mental picture of the glamour inherent to Tudor courts. The sumptuous fabrics of court costumes and the splendor of palaces and castles were easily visualized. This part of the book was experienced rather than just read.
The bits actually about Bess were intriguing. The author started out well, giving us a family situation hovering on the brink of poverty and debtors prison. Bess is lucky enough to find connections that launch her into court life where she finds opportunities to better herself and help her family. Throughout the book, Bess shows some intelligence and ability in being able to balance the dangers of intrigue and power-shifts as Henry the Eighth's family and courtiers vie for the throne. She protects and provides for her family, husband, and children as best she can in an ever shifting world.
However, I felt the author spent so little time on Beth herself that this book shouldn't be touted as a work on her. More time was spent talking about the history of the Tudor family, the various events in the different reigns of that dynasty. Little was shown on how those events impacted Beth and her family; it seemed like I was presented with a timeline of the various Tudor reigns rather than a book on Bess of Hardwick.
Despite having shown some intelligence, Beth’s characterization overall is of a doormat. She's too perfect. She's the perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect friend, and perfect subject. She's ever loyal and ever true. At least seeing her beginning with some aspects of her intelligence showcased saved her character in this book.
And then the author makes the added insult in neglecting to include the most dramatic and interesting part of Bess' life, that of her last marriage and her involvement with the jailing of Mary Queen of Scots. Of all her marriages, this one probably was the rockiest and most problematic. I think the including of this part of the story of her life would have helped elevate my doormat image of her. I think the author missed a golden opportunity by excluding this part of her life. It would have lifted the book from mediocrity into a truly enjoyable historical fiction, on a woman that stood out in history.
From the author notes, the author makes it clear that she wanted to concentrate on Beth early life. So the exclusion of that last part of her life, I suppose I can understand. However, this book still stands out only for how bland it is. Concentrating more on individuals that have had volumes and volumes written about them, I think the author missed the boat when it came to the opportunity on portraying a historical woman that could stand to have more exploration done on her herself. What little I got only made me thirst for more, but what I got to round out those wonderful glimpses was a doormat of a woman who is too perfect to be real. If you're looking for a light read and not expecting much, maybe give this book a look. However, I wouldn't go out of my way to look for a copy.