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The Sundial Commission
The Queen's Sorrow - Suzannah Dunn
Member Name: luckyarchers
The Queen's Sorrow - Suzannah Dunn
Date: 25/05/09, updated on 28/01/13 (276 review reads)
Advantages: Good background atmosphere.
Disadvantages: Weak plot and some unbelievable characters.
*** Plot Overview ***
When Prince Philip of Spain marries the English monarch Queen Mary Tudor, he brings with him a huge entourage. This includes Rafael, who he commissions to make a special sundial for his new wife.
The main plot is about Rafael's time in England. I learnt a little about his trade as he visits the garden were the Prince's present is to be placed, as Rafael needs to know the direction of the sun before he can accurately measure time with a new creation. He tells us that English sundials are usually simpler to those found in Spain at this time. He comes to the conclusion that there has not been so much interest in them in England due to there being a lot less sun.
Readers also learn about his life in Spain as he has time to reminisce, while waiting for confirmation of the work to be done. This past may well affect romantic decisions he has to make in England.
*** The Characters ***
I found Rafael unbelievably naïve in both family matters and political awareness.
His capabilities and stupidity just don't seem to go together in the same person to me. He has mastered the craft of sundial making, which includes doing the preparatory work of making drawings and calculations to ensure accuracy, and has an assistant to do simpler tasks.
Set against this, he kids himself, and tries to convince others, that healthy pregnancies can last 11 months, and believes he can know the mind of a foreign queen, without having the opportunity to get to know her well.
Despite the book's title, Queen Mary only has a small part in this novel, although an important one. I believe that the informality of Queen Mary towards Rafael, who is after all a foreign servant, is also totally implausible. I suppose that, in the author's mind, it is this informality that leads Rafael to think that he can understand her. However, I think that it is just one far-fetched plot line after another.
*** Historical Accuracy ***
The author states that Rafael, the sundial maker, his assistant and the household of the family that he stays with while in London are her own inventions, but that in all other respects she has aimed for historical accuracy.
I like the way the author shows the difficulties a Spaniard has living in London at that time.
Readers also get a reasonable feel for the lives of a wide range of English Londoners in these uncertain times.
Events that affect them all are religious unrest, the Queen's anxiety for a child to be her heir and bad weather conditions leading to poor harvests, which are true representations of these times.
However, for me, the lack of credibility in the Queen's relationship with Rafael shattered the authentic feel.
*** Recommendation ***
If you want historical fiction with a chick-lit feel to it, Suzannah Dunn is an author you might appreciate, but don't start with this book.
I have also read another of her novels, The Sixth Wife, which I have already reviewed. This is a better read than The Queen's Sorrow, but I would only recommend it to readers who usually read modern chick-lit, who would like to start exploring historical fiction novels.
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: HarperPerennial (5 Jan 2009)
Summary: Tragic Tudor historical fiction seen through the eyes of a Spanish sundial maker.