Book review: A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir

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Two young women, one linked to the Tudor dynasty, the other to the mighty Plantagenets – they lived nearly 100 years apart but both were innocent victims of royal ambitions.

Historian Alison Weir, who has found a fresh and firm footing as a novelist, plucks two little known characters from the footnotes of English history and intertwines their fates in an enthralling tale of murder, mystery and love.

One is Lady Katherine Grey, sister of the nine-day Queen Jane who was beheaded for unlawfully accepting the Tudor Crown; the other is Kate Plantagenet, illegitimate daughter of Richard III, usurper king and chief suspect in the notorious murder of the two young princes in the Tower.

A Dangerous Inheritance, Weir’s third and undoubtedly best historical novel, is proof indeed that she has mastered the popular and beguiling ‘faction’ formula in which fictional events slip seamlessly into an authentic historical framework.

The author of such admired non-fictional works as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella: She-Wolf of France, Queen of England and Lancaster and York: the Wars of the Roses is now a confident and talented novelist, producing classy, sweeping sagas brimming with action, drama and romance.

Well-plotted personal stories play out amidst the weight of real social, religious and political intrigue and the gripping tales that ensue are as much due to Weir’s commanding knowledge of history and its nuances, as to her increasingly impressive style and power of imagination.

Lady Katherine Grey is one of three sisters, all uncomfortably close to the Tudor throne and all political pawns of their ambitious parents who see a chance to seize power as the health of the boy King Edward VI deteriorates.

Katherine, 13 years old, feisty and attractive, and her elder, more bookish sister Jane are married off to advantageous suitors chosen for them by their parents and the ruthless Duke of Northumberland.

When the young king dies and the Grey family’s scheming to put Jane on the throne ends in executions and disaster, Katherine’s marriage to Lord Henry Herbert is annulled and she must learn to tread carefully through a political minefield.

But her problems mount when her distant cousin Elizabeth I becomes queen. Katherine has more royal blood in her than the new monarch and when she secretly marries Edward Seymour, a nephew of Henry VIII’s third wife Jane Seymour, Elizabeth’s fury has dangerous consequences.

Almost a century earlier, Kate Plantagenet, illegitimate daughter of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, is horrified when her two cousins, one of them heir to the English throne, are murdered in the Tower of London.

The rumours are that her beloved father, now King Richard III, was responsible for their deaths. Headstrong and fearless, she embarks on a perilous mission to find out the truth about the two princes, and if that wasn’t enough, like Katherine Grey, she has also fallen in love with a man forbidden to her.

And fortune does not always favour the brave...

Alison Weir has produced a terrific book, full of vivid storytelling, fascinating history and all those ingredients – romance, danger, mystery and suspense – which bring the past to life in such stunning detail, colour and atmosphere.

An entertaining and absorbing read from the new queen of historical fiction...

(Hutchinson, hardback, £17.99)