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The Tower

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Over 500 years past her lifetime Mary Queen of Scots still implores books about her.
The focus of the new novel about her is on the three lady attendants who showed Mary the utmost devotion: Jane, Cuckoo, and Lady Seton.
It was an interesting read in a world comprised of greedy people and danger lurking about every corner.
The author’s afterward was a helpful conclusion to the historical facts.

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My rating comes especially beacuse the book is not what I was expecting. It mainly focus on the time that Mary was imprisoned and forced to abdicate in the name of her son. I was expecting the story to focus more on the political and historical part. But the story is much more focused on Mary's relationships with her chamber maids and their inner turmoil.

Thank you Netgalley, author, and publisher for the ARC.

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Thanks NetGalley for the free ARC in exchange for an honest review!

The Tower is a historical novel focusing on the imprisonment of Mary Queen of Scots, her only companions her chamber maids and one of her jeweled ladies from her time as queen. I think the author does an excellent job of conveying the claustrophobic, imprisoned lives of these women in a male dominated world. Each woman was sufficiently developed throughout the novel and I loved the ebb and flow of their relationships

I went into this with no real knowledge of Mary Queen of Scots. While not required to read and enjoy this book, I personally wish I had brushed up on this historical event prior to reading (I like to see how accurate a retelling is, and how clever/interesting the creative liberties are).

While I appreciated how the author really pulled you into the close, claustrophobic quarters of Lochleven Castle I do think it could have been condensed a smidge to keep my interest up. Despite this, I really enjoyed this one and would definitely pick up another book by this author!

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First line: From far away, she looks like a roosting bird.

Summary: It’s 1567 and a pregnant Mary, Queen of Scots in taken from her palace and imprisoned in the tower of Lochleven Castle. Her captors want her dead but will settle for her abdication. Upon her agreement to the abdication she is allowed the company of her trusted friend, Lady Seton. As the two women along with their serving women, they hatch a plan to escape from the clutches of the Scottish nobles. With their combined love for the exiled queen the women push aside differences in class to work together on their shared goal of survival and escape.

My Thoughts: Over the years I have read several books about Mary, Queen of Scots, many dealing either with her time in France, early time in Scotland and her life as a prisoner of Elizabeth I. However, this is a history I knew very little about. Mary is brought here by the lords of Scotland, as a prisoner and pregnant with twins. While isolated in the tower she miscarries as well as abdicating her throne. This is a major turning point in English and Scottish history.

Through all the stories of Mary I have read, I find it hard to decide how I feel about her. She made many mistakes but was also forced by the men around her into some of these decisions. This gave me a little more insight into why she made these choices. As a prisoner she was kept away from her young son, poorly tended during her pregnancy and stripped of her inheritance. I cannot even imagine how depressed and alone she felt at the time. It is easy to see why she decided that abdicating was her only choice. She also had hope that her cousin, Elizabeth I, would help her regain her throne. As we know this wouldn’t happen but it seems likely at the time Mary was shut away.

This story is fairly short but it breaks down the year that Mary and her attendants spent in the tower at Lochleven. They devised a plan to escape which leads to the mad dash to England. I liked learning a bit more about this piece that brings together the other more well-known parts of her history. To end Women’s History Month I would recommend learning more about this tragic queen and the women who protected her in her dark days in the tower.

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This well-researched historical novel presents Mary Queen of Scots during her hardest moments in captivity, sometimes feeling weak and sometimes stronger but with true friends by her side to cry and laugh.

In her debut novel, Flora Carr @floracarr13 explores womanhood and friendship. The writing is lyrical and atmospheric, and its descriptions help to picture the place where you can even smell what was in there.

It addresses the condition of being a woman with her passions, vulnerabilities, and strengths that helps to understand what Mary experienced locked in Lochleven tower for 11 months, being far from her child, the suffering of her miscarriage, and her dreams of unite the two kingdoms.

It also presents the women who spent all that time with Mary. These characters were well-developed, portraying relations between women, the camaraderie, jealousy, and their passions.

The novel is educational, full of historical bits, but they are integrated naturally, so it is easy to digest the information and feel engaged at the same time.
It gives background information about Mary and the courts, the situation in Scotland and its religion, the medicine methods from that time, old customs and festivities, the role of women, and how they were abused and mistreated.

It made me reflect on how hard it was to live in that time, when women couldn't complain about menstrual crams, and all the emotional suffering that they had to hide in order to stay firm and survive.

I think this can be a good book club pick because of all the themes addressed in the novel.

I saw this book months ago, and the book description attracted me immediately. A few days ago, I received the digital-ARC thanks to Doubleday and Netgalley and I'm so glad I read it right away. The length is just right, and it was very absorbing that I managed to finish it in a couple of days.

Historical fiction lovers don't miss this one!

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The Tower is an immensely atmospheric novel, telling of the days Mary Queen of Scots is confined at an island castle. The descriptions, whether of bodily functions, scenery, food, or setting, are absolutely visceral. Further, the inner thoughts of the women (both Mary and the ladies she is confined with) are intense and beautifully rendered. However, I will admit that the laser focus on these women experiencing these things got to be a bit too much for me. I longed to have the camera pan out from this intense scene to give me a larger picture of Mary's life. I realize this is wishing for a different novel, but the claustrophobia of this one became difficult to read. That said, this is a beautifully written book and I'll recommend it to readers who I think will appreciate it for what it is.

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Strongly grounded in real historical figures and events, this first novel from a lauded short story writer is chock full of interesting facts and sensory imagery. Carr particularly brings to life the chambermaids who really existed and served Mary, but so easily fade into the background of history.

Although staunchly feminist and queer, the book doesn't succumb to presentism nor does it shy away from the brutal and grim realities of its time. It is physical to the point of vulgarity, even briefly leaning toward body horror. The opening scene is of Mary relieving her bladder. Full passages are dedicated to what it was like to clean oneself while menstruating in the 16th century with comparisons of blood globules to pomegranate seeds. I didn't find such descriptions gratuitous -- I really appreciate that there was no facade of glamour as some historical novels can take. I just know this won't be to every reader's taste.

Overall, it's a fascinating and in-depth look at a slice of history rarely seen in historical fiction, and despite some repetitive exposition, is well-crafted with imaginative storytelling.

CW: rape, misogynistic slurs, miscarriage, death of animals, murder

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A bold re-telling of Mary Queen of Scots imprisonment at Lochleven.
It follows the struggles of Mary, lady Seton and chambermaids Jane and Cuckoo while imprisoned.
The prose is beautiful and has strong themes of female friendship. The author does an amazing job of including historical details.
I love the story of Mary and this novel did not disappoint!

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This novel is beautifully written and is so incredibly atmospheric. Although I ultimately know how Mary, Queen of Scots meets her end this story is still so haunting, suspenseful, and tense. You could really sense the walls closing in on you, just like Mary must have felt. I really loved how the women interacted with one another and the way the lines were blurred between queen, noblewoman, and chambermaid as they faced adversity and imprisonment. Mary, Queen of Scots was especially brought to life and was shown not just as a queen, but as a human being.

However, this book struggles with inconsistent and sometimes indistinguishable perspectives that switch mid-paragraph. This can make the book hard to follow because it's not know who is thinking or remembering. It's jarring to have to stop and constantly figure out whose voice is whose. This is also a slower paced novel, especially considering it is focused on just a year of Mary's life.

3.5 stars

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"The Tower" by Flora Carr offers a close portrayal of Mary, Queen of Scots' imprisonment at Lochleven Castle, exploring her relationships with her ladies-in-waiting and her determination to escape. Carr vividly captures the claustrophobic atmosphere of the castle and the internal struggles faced by Mary and her companions. However, the novel falls short in fully depicting Mary's strength and intellect, portraying her as overly emotional and diminished. Additionally, the inclusion of historically inaccurate elements, such as a romantic relationship between Mary's ladies, detracts from the authenticity of the story. Despite these flaws, Carr's debut novel is a compelling and quick-paced read, showcasing her skillful writing style and ability to evoke emotion.

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DNF at 33%

I've slowly made my foray into the genre known as "no plot, just vibes" books and have especially loved when they are historical. The Tower seemed like it was going to be just that; what's more, it's about a person and time period that I have a special interest in.

I don't know if it is the writing or my mood or the fact that Mary, Queen of Scots did not have a POV in the section of the book that I read, but I just did not find myself connecting with this book. Maybe I'm over the "bold, feminist" books that don't actually say anything bold. I'm sure that this book has an audience; unfortunately, I'm just not in it.

Thank you to NetGalley and Doubleday Books for an ARC of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review!

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In her debut novel The Tower, Flora Carr creates a close world for Mary, Queen of Scots and her ladies, Jane and Cuckoo imprisoned inside the fortressed walls of Lochleven Castle in Scotland. Carr adeptly portrays the near claustrophobia of the rooms where Mary is forced to stay, and writes so vividly about the wet, dank, dark and dreary surroundings of the loch that surround the castle. The personalities of and the squabbles between Jane and Cuckoo also convey a sense of internal stress as Mary grapples with the separation from her child, James and her enforced abdication. Mary thinks about her relationships with the men in her life and how they've let her down, so instead, she sets her sights on England. Believing that her cousin and fellow monarch Elizabeth I will offer her aid and succor, she plots her escape. However, Mary's larger than life persona through the centuries is too far diminished. Carr's Mary is forever crying and simpering over her troubles. Mary Stuart's intellect, strength of character, regal bearing, determination, and the plotting and scheming of the Tudor age, and indeed her Tudor lineage, are barely seen..

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To speak of “the Tower” in Tudor times makes a reader skip to thoughts of death. However the building referred to in The Tower, a novel by Flora Carr, is only used as a holding place at Lochleven Castle in Scotland. Mary Queen of Scots was held there for almost a year and the story covers this time period. A great venue for historical fiction, Carr delivers a claustrophobic feeling of Mary and her ladies in damp quarters with little else but each other. I enjoyed the slow build of historical background on her captors and the ongoing back and forth of the government in Scotland. I would have loved more detail on the parallel situation going on with Mary’s brother himself and more knowledge of the child she had to leave behind. However I did not like the addition of an open door relationship of two of Mary’s ladies which is not historical. I do not think it was needed and it did not match the subject matter in the rest of the book. My favorite takeaway from this book is the feeling we get of Mary’s magnetism and determination. And all of her enemies are revealed throughout this year of captivity including Elizabeth I, other Protestants and other Scots too. She didn’t have a chance. I appreciate the chance to read this advance copy from Netgalley and the publisher Doubleday.

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Flora Carr’s debut novel “The Tower” delivers a tight and visceral depiction of Mary's incarceration at Lochleven Castle from June 1567 to May 1568 from a decidedly feminist angle. 

Here the queen remained under the watchful eyes of Margaret Erskine and her daughter-in-law Agnes at the behest of Mary’s half-brother, James Stewart, Earl of Moray. Her only companions are Jane Kennedy, Marie de Courcelles (called “Cuckoo”), and later Lady Mary Seton. A few days after her arrival, Mary is deposed, losing her throne.

In their imprisonment, the four form a tight bond that blurs the lines between mistress and servants. Their constant close proximity both pulls them together and creates moments of tension.

During this time, Mary begins to plot her escape. She's determined to escape Lochleven and regain her kingdom. Can she escape her prison? And what about those around her?

“The Tower” explores how women find companionship forged in the fires of adversity, a theme easily relatable to the modern day. Carr employs a deep understanding of psychology and engrossing writing to create an unsettling but powerful depiction of Mary's imprisonment.

Sadly, however, the novel suffers from inconsistent and often indistinguishable perspectives, slow pacing, and no chapter structure that occasionally turns it into a literary slough as thick and impenetrable as the fog of a Scottish loch.

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Carr’s taut debut recalls Maggie O’Farrell’s The Marriage Portrait (2022) in its evocation of a highborn Renaissance woman trapped against her will and desperately contriving to escape. The setting is Lochleven Castle, a stone fortress on a Scottish island, hauntingly picturesque from outside but a dank, oppressive prison for Mary, Queen of Scots, and her two chamberwomen, Jane and Marie, called Cuckoo. In 1567, Mary, the embattled Catholic ruler of a Protestant country, is with child by her third husband, the despised Bothwell, and pressured to abdicate in favor of her one-year-old son, James. The women’s shifting emotional patterns and regular flashbacks illustrating the political background keep tension bubbling and prevent the story from feeling claustrophobic. Mary’s childhood friend, Lady Seton, joins the trio later, complicating their dynamics. Mary remains entrancing as she earns and feeds off the devotion of her fellow prisoners. Carr dexterously explores how the seductive allure of royalty is undimmed by Mary’s grim circumstances, which are depicted with earthy physicality. Despite Mary’s foreshadowed downfall, this pulled-from-history novel resounds as a victory for female camaraderie and cleverness. (Published in Booklist, 2/51/24 issue)

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This was a wonderful debut novel by Flora Carr. They have taken a snapshot from the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, and made it into a fast paced story. Mary has been locked in a tower in the middle of a lake with her ladies and the story centers around their thoughts and actions while being trapped.
I loved the author’s quick style of writing, almost like a stream of consciousness. It makes for a very enjoyable read.
Don’t think the fast pace of the writing style somehow hides flaws in the story, because it does not. Flora Carr has perfected the despair, anxiety, pain, and love the women share while being held.
A highly enjoyable read and I look forward to seeing what the author writes in the future.
Many thanks to Doubleday Books and NetGalley for the digital arc in exchange for my honest review.

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4.5 stars. The Tower is the very best type of historic fiction - the kind that gives modern voice to the injustices of the time without losing the edge of the period. This book manages to explore friendship, feminism, class dynamics, and politics within the tightest language. The closest comparison I have is Lauren Groff’s Matrix, but where that book is epic in scope and sweeping in timeline, The Tower is intimate and confined. It is such an interest note in history, while still ringing relevant to our current world.

There are two tiny details that I particularly appreciated: 1) while the characters of this book are always referred to as women, it’s made very clear that non are older than mid-20’s. To me, what they endure is made all the more tragic by this. 2) this is a me thing, but whenever I consume historical content (books, plays, movies… really anything) the smells of the time (particularly people) takes up much more of my brain space than it should. Carr directly addresses this disgusting detail and it not only heightens the claustrophobia at the crux of this story, but also helped my reading experience, as I didn’t have to wonder.

Very excited to recommend this to friends. Thank you to Netgalley and Doubleday for access to an e-ARC in exchange for this honest review.

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This is not your grandmother's book about Mary, Queen of Scots nor is it a traditional vision of her through her husbands or the men of her court. Nothing is romanticized or glamourized. It is not a modern update but rather views Mary with an awareness that was lacking before now. This story made me realize that perhaps I had been misled in my assumptions of Mary for many years.

Although this book covers only one year of Mary's life, the author weaves her previous life events skillfully into this story. This one year takes place in a single room in a Scottish island castle that serves as a prison for Mary and her three female companions. Her treatment initially was shocking as the men took great pains to humiliate her in sadistic, lecherous ways. The claustrophobia and monotony felt by the women was palpable but so was the tender bond that developed between them. Although this is just a small portion of the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, I loved how the author dropped bits of information about the futures of all four women into the story. I highly recommend this brilliant debut book that opens eyes to new historical possibilities without the traditional patriarchal lens.

My thanks to NetGalley and Doubleday for the digital ARC. All opinions and the review are entirely my own.

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Gorgeous historical fiction that’s really well written! I heard a lot about Queen Mary and so I was so hyped when I heard of this one that let us see her point of view and it life’s up to it. Thanks for the arc

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Thanks to NetGalley and Doubleday for the experience of reading this advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review.
I read a lot of historical fiction but frankly it’s the World War Two books that tend to overshadow every other event or era. I relish in finding a new read that isn’t 20th century and rarely get the opportunity. I have a new era to explore! The Tower centers around a small period of time but a consequential time in Scottish history, the imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots. I knew so little of this Queen, mainly because Henry the Eighth and his six wives take over books, film, documentaries, and Broadway musicals.
What I like about this book was the lush description and the friendships and loyalty (or not) of the women. You can see the lochleven castle and the tower, and can imagine their day to day lives. You can feel the class structure and hesitancy of the women as they navigate their new interactions. You can feel the urgency and anxiety of the escape attempts. And you can sense the angst of the communications received and what they do or do not say.
Book clubs will enjoy this book. I would recommend it to patrons, with a note of the graphic nature of some of the bodily functions and language. 4 solid stars.

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