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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

“Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles”, by Margaret George


870 pages, St. Martin's Press, ISBN-13: 978-0312082628

Reading one of Margaret George's books is just like running a marathon, considering each one is 600+ in pages. This is the fourth (out of five) book of hers' that I have read, and like all the rest the story is dense, fulfilling and even mind-blowing. Miss George researches her novels very thoroughly, which is what I love about her and a handful of other authors out there. Though this is a fictional tale, I like my stories to have as much fact in it as possible. She accomplished that very well with Mary Queen of Scots, for though I've read biographies about the tragic queen, I feel I learned more about her than I did in anything else. George brings all the characters to life, the queen and all her players, other rulers and their courtiers, as well as the setting surrounding all the characters. You feel like you are standing next to Mary as she rules over France and Scotland, and you weep with her throughout her imprisonment in England. 

Yes, I was mesmerized – until I reached page 500 or so, by which time I had had enough of Mary. First quarter of the book is about her life in France and deja-vu! I noticed a striking resemblance to Marie Antoinette in Abundance. Mary's first 18 years was nothing but parties and happiness and clothes while her poor mother struggled in Scotland to hold the throne while being married to a rather impotent dauphin (I guess the French have problems in that area…) Nevertheless, when Mary finally does take the Scottish throne, no one wants her there and the reader will soon find out why. While her subjects struggle with everyday life, she is importing porcupines, bears, and lions for her amusement. She marries a man everyone begs her not to marry and then cries over his ill treatment of her 2 months or so later. She pardons every thief or murderer in the country, including the ones that tried to kill her (and wonders why they turn against her again). She also inflicts a tax upon her subjects to pay for an elaborate baptismal soiree for her son, when her people most likely cannot afford to baptize their own children. And after all her holier-than-thou attitude attesting that she is a devout Catholic, proceeds to desecrate an altar in a chapel by soiling it with the Lord Bothwell. The woman did not deserve her throne and served as a window decoration so to speak and I really cannot blame people for overthrowing her. Great job to Margaret George, though.

Although this book is terribly long and rather dense, if you can manage to get through it you will be rewarded with a portrait of a young girl terribly ill-suited to be a queen. I knew very little about Mary before, and now that I know more I feel like she is definitely a woman I would not want to spend much time with. She begins her life as a self-consumed pampered child more interested in dresses and parties than preparing for any future role she might have as a queen. When she does become queen, she makes all the wrong choices again and again, starting with marriage to a man everyone warns her against. This is a very interesting look at a headstrong child who becomes a headstrong woman determined to win and get her way at any cost. It seemed as though she never really grew up.

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