Friday, October 9, 2015

Review: Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle

Publication Date: July 8th, 2014 (Kindle edition)/July 24th, 2015 (Audible edition)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Penguin Books Limited
Pages: 449/15 hours and 28 minutes


From the author People called “a must-read for Philippa Gregory fans,” a “terrifically entertaining” (The Sunday Times, London) novel about two sisters who must survive life in the Tudor court after the execution of their sister Lady Jane Grey who was queen for just nine days.

Early in Mary Tudor’s turbulent reign, Lady Catherine and Lady Mary Grey are reeling after the brutal death of their elder seventeen-year-old sister, and the succession is by no means stable. In Sisters of Treason, Elizabeth Fremantle brings these young women and their perilous times to vivid life.

Neither sister is well suited to a dangerous career at court. Flirtatious Lady Catherine, thought to be the true heir, cannot control her compulsion to love and be loved. Her sister, clever Lady Mary, has a crooked spine and a tiny stature in an age when physical perfection equates to goodness—and both girls have inherited the Tudor blood that is more curse than blessing. For either girl to marry without royal permission would be a potentially fatal political act. It is the royal portrait painter, Levina Teerlinc, who helps the girls survive these troubled times. She becomes their mentor and confidante, but when the Queen’s sister, the hot-headed Elizabeth Tudor, inherits the crown, life at court becomes increasingly treacherous for the surviving Grey sisters. Ultimately each young woman must decide how far she will go to defy her Queen, risk her life, and find the safety and love she longs for.

“An enthralling story of love and tyranny, Sisters of Treason brings the Tudor Courts to life again, in all their romance and horror” (Leanda de Lisle).

What Did I Think About the Story?

Tudor history is one of those time periods that has been written about every possible way, with just about every person of note highlighted and nearly every corner unearthed to try and present the history in a new and interesting light. While I still can't get enough of the Tudors I do understand why many readers have all but banned them from their reading lists....there's just been such an over-saturation of the subject matter! So what could draw a reader familiar with the time period back? Simply put, exceptional writing and a story that, while familiar, is still poignant and alluring. This is exactly what you will get in Elizabeth Fremantle's Sisters of Treason, a novel that is so well written you cannot help but be drawn in and captured by the characters even as you know the inevitable paths their lives will take.

I switched back and forth between the Kindle version and the Audible audiobook version of Sisters of Treason but I must note that the audiobook was so captivating that I listened to the majority of the story. The narrators (Georgina Sutton, Rachel Bavidge and Teresa Gallagher) were perfect and did a phenomenal job of giving Lady Catharine, Lady Mary and Levina Teerlinc their own voices and personalities. So often with audiobooks there is one narrator that does their best to create distinct voices for multiple characters, but having the three separate narrators eliminated any possible confusion between characters and gave each her own story within a story. Whichever narrated Lady Mary was PERFECT and was able to somehow give us this higher, innocent sounding voice laced with steal that perfectly personified the Lady Mary within the story. I was so disappointed whenever I had to stop listening and do anything else.

Choosing to tell this story from these three points of view was excellent. The story as a whole covers the time period from Jane Grey's execution through a good part of Queen Elizabeth's reign. The royal blood that flows within the two surviving Grey sisters meant they would never be too far from the court or the intrigues that surrounded the thrones of Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I, especially Lady Mary as her deformity and small stature made her less of a threat to both queens and made it so she was nearly invisible to many. She was almost a pet to these queens and was witness to many conversations and intrigues that wouldn't have happened in front of others. Lady Catharine, on the other hand, did present more of a threat so was closely watched and punished for any personal freedoms she sought without the queens' permission. Levinia also presents a great point of view as she shifts from the fringes of the court as a painter into the grime and dirt of the streets, giving a way to show what all level of person would have felt and experienced during this turbulent time. These shifting perspectives gives a constant feeling of tension overlaying the story as danger and grief is never far behind any of these women.

Individually, each woman's story is laced with loss, heartache and, ever so briefly, small glimpses of joy. Lady Katharine wants nothing more than to love freely and be loved and, for anyone who knows the story already, her actions toward this end bring her years of imprisonment and indescribable loss. Lady Mary wants peace and security away from court and, while she eventually finds a small taste of this, faces her own losses of love and happiness before getting there. Levina sacrifices much of her own love and family in the pursuit of her art and to protect the Grey sisters and, while I wasn't familiar with her as a court painter, watching her tug-a-war between her home life and her court life was fascinating. All of these characters are brought to life in such a way that it was impossible not to feel for them and ache a little for all they lost.

The secondary characters are just as well brought to life. I was amazed at the detail given to Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth and Ms. Fremantle does an exceptional job of showing the mental and physical unraveling of Mary as well as the whip-smart and vindictive nature of Elizabeth. I was a little surprised at the sympathetic presentation of the Grey sisters' mother, Francis Grey, as I have always seen her presented as a cruel, cold and manipulative woman, but I enjoyed seeing her as a more loving and kind mother to Catharine and Mary and supportive friend to Levina.  The entire story, from character development to period detail, is just perfectly presented.

Even though I have all three of Elizabeth Fremantle's novels this is my first experience with her writing and it is just superb. I am now prepared to dive right into Queen's Gambit (the first in her Tudor Trilogy with Sisters of Treason being the second) and Watch the Lady (the third book in the Tudor Trilogy). I can't imagine a better way to spend my time and recommend her writing to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or just a wonderfully spun story.

What Do I Think About the Cover?


It's very pretty. I like that it includes one of the small portraits painted by Levina in the story (I believe it is supposed to be Catharine and her first son) and that the woman has a small smile playing across her lips. For Catharine one of her biggest joys was her first son, so it would make sense for the woman on the cover to be Catharine. All and all it would definitely make me pick up the book and read more.

My Rating: 5.0/5.0 

*I purchased this Kindle/Audiobook version for my own library*

About Elizabeth Freemantle (from her website)


As a child I was the one in the corner with my nose in a book who wanted to be a writer, but with the onset of a turbulent adolescence I left school, under a cloud, aged fifteen with nothing more than a fistful of O Levels and a hapless sense that things would somehow work themselves out. Eventually, after working in various dodgy dives – I've served grey scrambled eggs to squaddies at 5.30am; I've
served vintage champagne to raucous hoorays; I've pulled pints for all and sundry – I managed to find myself, much in the way Forrest Gump always landed on his feet, working as a dogsbody on a
photo: Poppy Miyonga
fashion magazine. Over a decade, I worked for titles such as Vogue, Elle and The Sunday Times and contributed to many others. Marriage took me to Paris, a stint at French Vogue and the birth of my two gorgeous children but divorce saw me back home in London where I have happily remained. Fuelled by frustration with a fashion world that does no favours to women, I decided to complete my truncated education as a mature student which led, in a long and roundabout way with many frustrating impasses, to my fulfilling that childhood dream to become a novelist.
Elizabeth has a first in English and an MA in creative writing from Birkbeck, University of London. She has contributed to various publications including The Sunday Times, Vogue, Vanity Fair, The Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal. She also reviews fiction for The Sunday Express.


  1. I just got this one out of the library, so I hope to get to it soon!

    1. Oh, I hope you love it as much as I did! I'm about to begin her other novel, The Queen's Gambit, this week/weekend and I'm really excited to see if I love it as much as this one. Let me know what you think when you've read it!