Friday, January 23, 2009

Book 14 of 52: Doomed Queens: Royal Women Who Met Bad Ends

While caught in the land of lurrrrrve's sweet embrace, a friend joked that I'd have to read a book about kicking puppies to balance my brain out.

He was right. Doomed Queens: Royal Women Who Met Bad Ends, From Cleopatra to Princess Diby Kris Waldherr is that book. Nothing wipes the bloom from the rose like tales of murder, suicide and a lot of head chopping.

Doomed Queens is exactly what you think it would be about: queens done wrong. Waldherr starts with Athaliah, daughter of Queen Jezebel, who was executed in 835 BC, runs right through Henry VIII's wives and ends with Princes Di, covering 50 queens in all.

It's an interesting book, but about too many people. That 50 is an albatross -- some queens are only given a page or two, and we learn so little about them that I got them confused and was left thinking "What's the point?" Plus, the book is set up chronologically, but is about queens around the world, so interconnecting stories are interrupted.

Perhaps this would have been a better book with fewer queens, allowing Waldherr the space to tell us more about queens who mattered most or had the best stories. Francine Prose's The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women & the Artists They Inspiredstrikes a better balance by focusing on just nine women. You learn enough about them to care and read more if you wanted (which I did) or not instead of a glossing over of their lives. These queens never seem like they were real people.

The book isn't a total wash, though. If you're feeling spited by a man (or woman), reading a book about poisonings, beheadings and death via childbirths can help you realize that it could be a lot worse. Waldherr is also an illustrator and made some lovely drawings for this book. You can see a few on her site and through this book video:

But the narrative suffers from trying to cover too many queens in too short a book.

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