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Characters come alive in ‘The Queen’s Rival’

In nearly every written version of Henry VIII’s life, the name of Elizabeth “Bess” Blount usually finds its way into the story. Her place in Tudor history is owed to the fact that for 17 years she was the only person to give Henry what he wanted most — a son who lived to adulthood.

As another of Henry’s conquest, Bess sleeps with the king, gets pregnant, gives birth to a son, is married off, and then is never heard from again. But no one really knows all that much about young Bess. Historical romance author Diane Haeger tries to correct that in her latest novel, “The Queen’s Rival,” the third book in her In the Court of Henry VIII series.

A impressionable young girl who tended to daydream, Bess was sent to court at the age of 14 to take her mother’s place in the household of Queen Catherine after her father is injured in war and her mother returns home to care for him. Sweet natured and very naive, she has a highly romanticized idea of what court life — and the relationship between the king and his queen — is all about.

Bess quickly develops friendships with fellow maid of honor Elizabeth Bryan and Gilbert Tailbois (a ward and rumored son of Cardinal Wolsey). But with little to no adult guidance or experience to guide her and despite warnings from Elizabeth and Gil, she falls into the biggest trap at court — falling in love with the handsome and vibrant young King Henry.

Bess is pretty, but she also is intelligent, and that fascinates King Henry. Over the next few years a casual friendship develops between the two and Bess holds onto her romantic notions of the king who loves his queen. She can’t imagine that Henry would ever become involved with another woman — especially after he falsely tells her that he doesn’t take mistresses.

But Bess soon discovers differently and in an unexpected moment of vulnerability on Henry’s part, they begin a relationship that has the potential to change everything, including who would rule England.

Haeger does a wonderful job portraying the fascinating court of Henry the VIII in “The Queen’s Rival.” Her characters come alive in the whirl of innocence and deceit that flourished around the English court and seem to almost leap off the page in this fast-paced and riveting tale.

If you enjoy reading about the Tudors and their antics, you’ll love this book.

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