Would you believe that I’m a fickle reader? Yeah, probably. I’m often crowing about historical accuracy. It’s kind of my thing. So it surprised me when I was overcome with a desire to read The Dead Queen’s Club, as I’m generally not a fan of alternative/revisionist history. But if you think DQC is either of those things, you’d be dead wrong, like I was. There is nothing revisionist about it. In fact, it may be the most historically accurate novel I’ve read in awhile. It just happens to take place 500+ years after the occurrence of the events.
Dead Queens Club opens with a phone call. Reminiscent of an oft-quoted scene in Mean Girls, the popular jock (Henry) reaches out to our quirky heroine (Cleves), “Get in Loser, we’re going pranking.” Ok, it wasn’t that exact line, but Hannah Capin’s Henry bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Regina George. Only there is no happy ending where he realizes the error of his ways and vows to be a better person. As Cleves would say, “This isn’t that kind of story.” Henry’s resemblance to Regina is nothing to do with an imitation of Mean Girls, and everything to do with the fact that Henry WAS the original mean girl, or boy if you insist. Doesn’t really matter, the point is that he was MEAN. And manipulative. And dangerous. But also utterly charming, and clever, and witty when he wanted to be.
In DQC, Capin sets out to change the narrative on the Tudor wives, and in doing so she gives these women a voice they have not had in a very long time…if ever. She gives them back their agency and a semblance of humanity. More importantly, by taking them out of the sixteenth century, she forces the readers to see themselves in her subjects. This is most successful in her portrayal of Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford. (Yes, technically Jane is not a ‘wife’ of Henry, but her fate is so entwined with theirs she might as well be.) Often accused of being a meddlesome, backstabbing gossip, Jane has probably been the one most slandered and least redeemed of all of them. As Parker Rochford, Head Cheerleader and all-around badass, Capin re-frames these charges as something each and every one of us has been guilty of. If you’ve never passed along a juicy bit of gossip or inserted yourself into a situation you didn’t belong in, please raise your hand. I’ll wait…What’s even better, is when it’s revealed just how easy it was for Henry to take every word or action from her and twist it into something vile and wretched. Exactly the same way some modern historians and fiction writers have been doing for centuries.
Though Capin’s book addresses some heavy issues, it doesn’t get mired in it’s own darkness. The pop culture references peppered throughout give much needed brevity and offered some laugh-out-loud moments. I often found myself wondering just how much fun she had writing this story. And it’s clear she knows her history. I couldn’t help but smile when Cleves references a dog Katie Howard gave her after only knowing her for a couple of days. The real Katherine Howard did, in fact, give Anne of Cleves a dog after she saw just how much Anne admired it.
Finally, what I appreciate most about DQC is what it told me about myself. Even though I knew from the start what Henry was all about, I kept pulling for him. I kept hoping that he and Cleves would end up together. DQC made me see just how easily I could be misled by charm and wit. How easily I can be blinded by the manipulation of a narcissist. How easily we can ALL be blinded. I can think of no better message for the modern era.