There are two things I like about Doomed Queens. One, it's short. Two, it gets to the juicy stuff quickly. No complex analysis of the relationship between the Queens, chapters about conniving courtiers, power struggles, growing unease, and religious conflicts. All the stuff which belongs in heavy history books, if you have the time to read them.
Unlike heavy history books, this one is interesting and humorous. Lest you think you you're not learning anything, each Chapter offers quizzes. Not to worry though, the answers are at the bottom of the page. (Note: you need to turn the book upside down in order to read them). At the very end of the book, there's a Cosmo style quiz to discover what kind of Queen you are.
True to the title, these are Doomed Queens. No happy endings. But the way the women are presented, you forget being depressed fairly quickly. There is a helpful Graphics Key at the front of the book, with various symbols to illustrate how they met their end. A skull with a crown on it means the Queen was beheaded. The flames symbol means she was burned to death, an upside down crown means she was deposed. A speeding motorcycle means death by paparazzi. When you begin reading about each queen, right under her name you can see the symbol so there's no surprise ending. Of course, if you want to prolong the suspense, just put your thumb over the symbol.
But of course, maybe you don't know what beheading is? Or you're unfamiliar with the poisoning technique? Though out the book there are sidebars which explain, in detail, what's involved and how their enemies went about it. Did you know that the most popular poison to use was arsenic? Or that starvation has been used as a method of execution since the dawn of civilization? Well, now you do!
Although it covers doomed queens, there are a few women featured who were not queens: Eva Peron and Diana, Princess of Wales to name two. Maybe Eva Peron was seen as a queen within Argentina, but the lyrics to Don't Cry for Me Argentina don't officially say that. Fascist, yes. Whore, depends on who you ask. Queen, no. Diana, may have wanted to be known as 'Queen of People's Hearts' but there's no government paperwork to that effect. Nonetheless, their stories and ultimate demises, make for interesting reading and serve as cautionary tales. In Diana's case: 'Avoid men with cameras'. Words to live, and die by.
There are wonderful illustrations throughout. The cover shows the floating heads of Marie Antoinette and Mary, Queen of Scots. A notable one is a sitting skeleton which looks as though it's reliving itself. Another one enthusiastically comes out of the page, sickle in hand, another jumps for joy. Who knew the gruesome and tragic deaths of these women could be presented in such a fun way?
Doomed Queens definitely succeeds in that, while being interesting at the same time. Try and find that in a heavy history book!
© Marilyn Braun 2009
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