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I don’t want to start off on a bad note, but Philippa wasn’t a very good book. The author, Beatrice Small, tried very hard to make it a good book, but sadly she just couldn’t quite pull it off.

The Philippa in the title is one Philippa Meredith. She is a Maid of Honor at the court of King Henry VIII and his wife, Katharine of Aragon. She was to be married, but her betrothed wound up forsaking her for the priesthood. Suddenly Philippa finds herself alone, at the risk of becoming an old maid at the ripe old age of fifteen. To try and improve her marriage prospects, her wealthy uncle buys her a valuable estate–only another man, Crispin St. Clair, the Earl of Witton, wants the same land. As a compromise, Crispin agrees to marry Philippa and gains the land in the bargain–and somewhere along the line the two uncover a plot to assassinate King Henry.

All of this has the making of a great romance novel–a marriage of convenience, intrigue, and the romance of courtly life, but unfortunately it didn’t turn out that way. The plot, for one thing, is paper-thin. Small tries very hard to insert excitement with the assassination plot but doesn’t follow through. The reader never finds out why the bad guys want to assassinate the king, and the would-be assassins come out of nowhere. And to make matters worse, the plot is discovered and foiled all within the span of five pages or so; it’s hardly the Kennedy conspiracy. The characters aren’t all that well developed, either. Philippa is painted as a shrewish and pampered courtier, and Crispin is more interested in her land and begetting an heir on Philippa than anything else, so when they finally admit their love for each other it lacks the proper romance to make the reader really care.

The very first love scene doesn’t even happen until page 268 (out of 410) and it really rubbed me the wrong way (no pun intended). It happens on Philippa and Crispin’s wedding night, and Philippa is very, very scared of doing the deed. She had spent the previous three years at court with Queen Katharine, who is depicted as a frigid and overly pious woman. She has filled Philippa’s head with the notion that sex is painful, sinful even, and a woman must not enjoy it–in fact she should pray the rosary in her head while the man gets on with it! Crispin isn’t very sympathetic and has to all but force Philippa to do it–she even says “no” twice. It was painted in a very “her mind says no but her body says yes” sort of way, and the implications of rape just left me very uncomfortable. As time goes on Philippa “learns to like it,” as it were, and they have a few more interludes including one ridiculous one toward the end involving food-play. I suppose it’s supposed to be sexy, but it just seemed gross to me.

All in all, Philippa by Beatrice Small was a disappointment. It was refreshing to read a romance novel set in this time period, (I believe this was the first one I’ve ever read set in Henry VIII’s court) but Small failed to make her novel connect with the reader. It seemed fairly historically accurate, so I might recommend it to history buffs or those interested in life during the sixteenth century, (Small spends an inordinate amount of time detailing the characters’ clothes and their pedigrees) but I wouldn’t recommend it to many others.

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