The Constant Princess - Philippa Gregory "A near-constant bore"

Catalina is the daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, the Spanish Infanta, betrothed to Arthur, Prince of Wales and heir apparent to the throne of England. From childhood she was prepped for her queenly position; she grows up alongside a battlefield, in the splendid palace in Spain, until she is sent to be married to Arthur. And thus begins the life of the future Queen Katherine of Aragon.

Despite their flaws, I rather enjoyed The Other Boleyn Girl and The Queen's Fool. But while I liked Catalina more as a protagonist than either Mary Boleyn or Hannah Green, I found myself more irritated and bored with "The Constant Princess" than I was for either TOBG or TQF.

NOTE: I'm no historian, so if you want to see how historically accurate this book is, you might want to seek another review.

I think the first notable difference between TCP and TOBG or TQF is the switching of viewpoints. At first, I thought TCP would settle into the traditional third person past point of view (POV). But this time around, I think Gregory wanted to experiment and decided to intersperse the traditional 3rd person sections with ones where Catalina speaks in first person present--either as the Older Catalina or as the "in-book present" Catalina.

I can see where an author would want to do this. The 3rd person POV is limited and cannot give the best insight into a character, not in the same way that a 1st person POV can (though a truly gifted author will be able to work around such challenges without resorting to changing POVs so drastically). To Gregory's credit, there were a few instances where the right balance was struck--the 1st person POV complimented and gave more insight into the 3rd person POV. Unfortunately, most of the time, these 1st person POVs just repeated the exact same things that were discussed in the 3rd person sections--or, worse, repeated the same point over and over again ("I was Infanta of Spain", "I was born to be princess", etc.).

In the beginning, the switching of POVs made some sense; something would happen to Catalina, then she would think about what happened. But towards the end, it seemed the POVs changed willy nilly. First person present now had action scenes, scenes where actual dialogue between characters was exchanged. In fact, the number of 1st person POVs increased towards the end, as if Gregory was tired of writing in 3rd person.

Since I opened with writing, let me continue in that vein for a bit more. There were no egregious spelling or grammatical errors that I could find. The text itself is a bit dry and bland (although I was stirred a bit when I read of Catalina's poverty).

The absolute worst is the repetition coupled with the classic violation of "show, don't tell". Catalina repeats herself more times than I could count. She goes on and on about how she is the true Queen of England, the Infanta of Spain, born to be Queen, and on and on. Everyone refers to her as being "constant", in a heavy-handed way of referencing the title. Conversations that shouldn't last more than a couple of sentences are drawn out to several minutes of listening time (such as: Arthur and Catalina discussing plants, Arthur and Catalina whining about how hard their lives are, Catalina moaning about meeting a woman whose brother was put to death by Catalina's family). The absolute worst was the description of Allahmbra, which had to have gone on for 10+ minutes. I know that Gregory was trying to give her audience of how opulent it was, but having Catalina talk to the audience about how opulent it is is BORING and repetitive. Instead, have your characters DO something that shows the opulence.

For the first time in a Gregory book, I actually didn't mind (too much) the protagonist, Catalina. I thought it was nice to have a smart, cunning, flawed woman. Catalina is able to keep her wits about her, manipulate things to her own end, and is shown to be a competent, powerful leader.

However, that doesn't mean that Catalina didn't bug me. Here is a list of the ways that she did:

1. Insta-love with Arthur. Sure, in the beginning, Arthur and Catalina didn't get along. But when Arthur apologizes to her for neglecting her in the cold (where she could have suffered severe injuries from frost bite), Catalina's feelings for him changelike a light switch, and suddenly, they are the most intense lovers of all time. This was just too sudden for me. There was no build-up, no gradual breaking down of walls--something that was sorely needed in this over-long, dull book.

2. Religion. Catalina was a devout Christian; here, she spends more time praying to Arthur and worshiping him beyond the grave. It's rather disturbing that she is still so obsessed with Arthur (after a mere 5 months of marriage!) that YEARS later, she is basically praying to him, asking him for help. I understand people mourn differently, people remember the dead differently, but this was just disturbing. And where was the religious Catalina from history? Also, this quote rather bothered me:

"But if my earthly father can forget me and forget that I was his favorite child as he has done, then I suppose My Heavenly Father can forget me too."

I know that, at the time, Catalina said this, she was in despair, but I would have thought that a devout Christian would realize that earthly father =/= heavenly father (because the earthly father is DUH human and fallible!). There are ways to do the "God has forsaken me" without drawing this odd conclusion.

3. Modern views. Catalina meets up with a Moor (Muslim) at one point, and actually begins to change her mind about the Moors and their treatment. Not saying this wouldn't have happened back in that day, but it feels awkward and unnatural in this context (and unnecessary?).

4. Marriage with Henry. While occasionally Catalina talks about her love for Henry, I never can buy it. She only rarely mentions her feelings to Henry, instead harping on her long-lost Arthur. I do appreciate how Gregory tried to let Catalina move on; I would have liked to see something more pronounced, where Catalina did more things for her love of HENRY instead of her love of ARTHUR.

5. Ambition via MY MAN. Catalina swears to Arthur she will marry Henry and become queen. And that is what motivates her throughout her life (oh, sure, there's this one line about "her own ambition", but I don't believe it at all). Why is every ambitious woman BAD (Anne Boleyn) unless she wants to do it for her husband (Catalina)? Why can't a woman have her own ambition and not be good?

Not as long as with Mary or Hannah, but just as irritating.

I'm tired of writing this, but other characters are one-note. "Childish" Harry. "Lover" Arthur. "Crass" Henry. "Wise and respectable" Moor physician. I just get tired of seeing characters written as one thing and never given any chance to change or grow or be anything like a real person.

The romance was saccharine; a brief fight, then a nuclear bomb couldn't drive Arthur and Catalina apart. As for whether or not they consummated their relationship, I don't know. I think you could make a case for either side. But I certainly don't buy that they had sex basically every night, and SOMEHOW Catalina didn't get pregnant.

I looked up Catalina on Wiki and was shocked by all the awesome things she did in her reign as queen (regent and Spanish ambassador?!). Unfortunately, this book really didn't make me all that interested in researching her or finding out more about her. Most of her early life is skipped; far too much time is on her telling Arthur far more interesting stories of time in Spain (another instance of breaking the "Show don't tell" rule) or jumping his bones. The latter half is more interesting, but the repetition and near-constant "my love, Arthur" business was enough to make me scream. The novel ends abruptly in an odd place, with many more years of Catalina's life (including the birth of her daughter) to go. And the entire battle was hastily managed. One minute, Catalina is riding out to meet the Scots; the next, a messenger comes back to announce the Scottish King is dead! I literally had to go back and relisten to this section to make sure I hadn't missed anything.

As for the narrator, Jill Tanner was brilliant. I think she was more than capable of sounding queenly and regal (though Jill did not give Catalina the foreign accent she did in TOBG) and the other characters were decently voiced as well, distinct enough that I knew who was saying what.

I think this may be the end of the Philippa Gregory Tudor Series line for me. I know that TOBG and TQF weren't the best novels in the world, but I actually was somewhat interested in their stories and mildly entertained. "The Constant Princess" I found to be a "constant bore". I struggled to get through parts and couldn't even muster the will to look up the amazing Queen Katherine on Wiki. Maybe if you like Queen Katherine or Philippa Gregory or are just wanting historical (romance) fiction lite, you will enjoy this. If that doesn't apply to you, I recommend avoiding.

Wanna rough idea of what I think?

This book was:

+ boring

+ dry

+ dull

+ repetitive

The switch in viewpoints (from 3rd person past to 1st person present) was:

+ unnecessary

+ redundant

+ not utilized in most cases to its fullest extent

The characters were:

+ cliched

+ one-note

+ irritating

+ much more boring than their real life counterparts

+ not what history tells us they are (e.g. Catalina being devout in RL vs Catalina worshiping Arthur in PG's world)

Catalina made me want to:

+ strangle her

+ duct tape her mouth

+ fine her for every time she said the words "constant", "princess", "queen", "infanta", "child", "beloved", "lover", and "born to"

The story was:

+ boring

+ occasionally interesting

The ending was:

+ odd

+ incomplete