The Queen's Fool, like most of Philippa Gregory's books, is an engaging tale of a young woman in history caught between love and duty. In this instance, it follows the fictional Hannah Green, a Jewish immigrant from Spain who works in her father's bookshop in London disguised as a boy. Due to a chance meeting with some famous historical characters and her gift of the 'sight', Hannah finds herself working as a fool in the service of Robert Dudley, Princess, then Queen Mary, and Princess, and to-be-Queen Elizabeth.
Hannah is torn between her instant love for the handsome Robert Dudley and her reluctant love for her betrothed Daniel, a fellow Jewish immigrant doctor. She is also torn between her love and respect for Mary and her love and fascination for Elizabeth, both of whom she becomes close confidants of. Throughout the book, Hannah's voice, her calm un-womanly-like demeanour, her determination to make her own living, her wanting respect as an equal from her to-be husband, is a breath of fresh air. She is spunky, strong-willed, but still remains completely feminine. I enjoyed her character very much, watching her grow as she slowly turns from boy to woman before us, although she did have her stubborn moments, much like Gregory's other heroines.
The reason I didn't enjoy this as much as Gregory's other books is that I find the circumstances to be unbelievable. All other Gregory books I've read have been told from the point of view of an actual historical character, therefore I believed all the situations, interactions, thoughts and emotions. The fact that Hannah becomes close to not just one, but two Queens-to-be, so much so that she heard Queen Mary's last words I found hard to swallow.
Also, I found her personal story, dealing with her father, her betrothal and eventual marriage somewhat disconnected to the rest of the story. It was almost as if I was reading two different books, one about Hannah the disagreeable wife-to-be, and one about Hannah, holy fool and confidant to the throne. When Hannah has to escape England and live in Calais with her new husband, mother and sisters-in law, as well as her issues with Daniel's son from another woman, I felt it was out of place. It didn't flow or add anything much to the story, it was almost just an interlude to an otherwise engaging tale. I would've liked to care more about her situation, but it was dropped right in the middle of all the political intrigue and succession issues that I felt it detracted from the true story, that of Queen Mary's struggles with her reign and marriage and Elizabeth's slow rise to the top, most of which we miss. Overall, a good engaging read, but not Gregory's best.