If you tried to judge this book by its cover I would suggest that you dismiss the idea that the main character, Jane Popyncourt, was a blonde because she wasn't. In fact she ends up practically middle age by the end of the book...at least by the cultural standards of her day. As a young girl she is mysteriously brought from France to England by her mother. She meets briefly with her uncle and then is sent to live in the royal nursery with Henry VII's heir and siblings. Soon afterwards her mother dies and she becomes the ward of Henry VII.
Emerson's Popyncourt was a real woman of whom she gives details about at the end of the novel. Most of 'Pleasure Palace' surrounds the mystery of who her mother was, why they left France in such a hurry, and how her mother met her unfortunate end. I wouldn't say this book was the most gripping thing I read recently, but it wasn't the worst and for readers new to the Tudor genre I would recommend it in terms of the accurate history and various maps and family trees that are included. I also enjoyed discovering unknown facts about life in Renaissance England.
"Lapdogs. They can scarcely be considered dogs at all. Why, such creatures are as annoying as ferrets, and less useful." He winked, surprising a laugh out of me. We both knew why some people wore pet ferrets wrapped around their necks like a ruff - ferrets ate lice. (page 97)
"It has not hurt the king, nor the princess...the queen of France. Nor has careful attention to their teeth." My former mistress had the most even teeth of anyone I knew and took particular pride in the fact that they were the color of ivory. She owned no fewer than three sets of tooth cloths and picks. "Further, you must put on your newest clothing after you bathe, and beneath all of your other garments, wear a little piece of fur next to your skin."
"To attract any vermin to that one spot." I touched the side of my bodice. "I have one here. It is a practice the king follows, as well." All of us who were educated at Eltham did the same. (page 258)
Now those are some trivial facts that will enthrall the average cocktail party attendee.
I found the conclusion of the story a bit rushed and contrived but that didn't harm Emerson's portrayal of the history that was happening alongside it. I further imagine that Emerson will be writing more about the Tudor clan since the story itself ends around the time of the birth of Princess Mary, soon to be known throughout history as 'Bloody Mary.' Plus, we all know that the Tudor court really starts popping once a certain Boleyn girl arrives with sister in tow.
I would highly recommend 'Pleasure Palace' for anyone interested in Tudor history because Emerson has done her homework. The writing itself doesn't overly inspire nor does the story have you at edge wondering what was going to happen next, but overall the book is an enjoyable read and perfect for reading outside while embracing the first buds of spring or inside hiding from the last remnants of winter.
Westerfield © 2009