The Agincourt Bride (Katherine of Valois #1) by Joanna Hickson

Historical fiction is my favorite genre, but it’s a tricky thing. Its very nature has a duality—it’s based on real events, yet some of the characters and events written about may be entirely made up. The goal of a historical fiction author is to take some facts, weave an entertaining story out of them, imagine the events not reported by history, and yet still sound authentic. So does The Agincourt Bride succeed?

The Agincourt Bride Front Cover (HarperCollins)

The Agincourt Bride Front Cover (HarperCollins)

THE PLOT: The story of Katherine of Valois is told in first person from the perspective of her wet nurse and eventual ladies maid, Guillmette (Mette). When teenage Mette’s baby dies, she is recruited to be the wet nurse to the newest French princess. Unfortunately, the royal children are neglected by their mad father and pleasure-seeking mother. Mette, as the mother figure, bonds with the little princess more than she eventually will her own children.

The little princesses and princes are eventually taken away to become pawns in royal power games, and Mette concentrates on her own family. When she is eventually reunited with a teenage Katherine, Mette again enters Katherine’s service. But keeping Katherine safe amid shifting court loyalties isn’t easy. Katherine is offered as a bride to Henry of England, but before she becomes his wife, she is traumatized by the very people who should be protecting her. In the meantime, Mette has her own share of tragedies.

MY TWO CENTS: I very much enjoyed the coverage in this book. While many books about Katherine of Valois skip straight to her marriage, this one explored more of her family background, teen years, and young adulthood before her marriage. It starts with Katherine’s birth and ends with her traveling to England. There are great descriptions of how the people of France were affected by all the political turmoil happening at the time.

Back to my original question: Does the book succeed as historical fiction? My response is: mostly yes. The book is told first-person from Mette’s point of view, and I feel like the book is most successful when Mette talks about her own family and her experiences with Katherine. I feel that the voice is slightly less successful when Katherine’s speech and actions are described through Mette’s eyes. It’s not that I see Mette as an untrustworthy narrator within the confines of the novel. It’s just that the descriptions of Mette’s experiences seem very natural, while Katherine’s speeches (as told by Mette) seem very forced. I’m not sure why this is; maybe to make sure we readers understand the distance between royal Katherine and common Mette. Maybe other readers won’t feel this discrepancy the way I do. It didn’t detract a lot from my reading experience, but I did feel it.

BOTTOM LINE: An enjoyable (although not fun) read of Katherine of Valois’s early life. I’m looking forward to seeing how an older Katherine relates to Mette as queen of England and then secret wife of Jasper Tudor in the sequel, The Tudor Bride.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups. I’m glad I have a paperback copy for my keeper shelf.

SPECIAL NOTE: Once I’ve finished Joanna Hickson’s The Tudor Bride, I intend to do a comparison/contrast of these two books with Anne O’Brien’s Forbidden Queen.

ON SALE DATE: The book is now available in the US in paperback, e-book formats, and audio.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

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A Triple Knot by Emma Campion

Here’s a period in English history I’m barely familiar with: Edward III and the Hundred Years’ War. This book focuses on Joan of Kent (“the Fair Maid of Kent”), who ultimately married Edward the Black Prince and became the mother of Richard II. I’m thinking the “triple knot” of the title refers to Joan’s sticky three marriages, which make for very interesting reading.

A Triple Knot Front Cover (Crown Publishing/Random House)

A Triple Knot Front Cover (Crown Publishing/Random House)

THE PLOT: Poor Joan of Kent is one of those royal cousins who is too near the throne for comfort’s sake. She knows she’ll be used as a pawn in whatever alliance her cousin, Edward III, can most benefit from.  But Edward’s young son Ned, the future Black Prince, has decided that someday Joan will be his queen. In the meantime, 12-year-old Joan meets and is instantly smitten with Thomas Holland, a young knight.

Some manipulation results in Joan marrying Thomas in secret and consummating the union. However, Joan’s mother and cousins refuse to acknowledge the marriage and instead marry her off to Will Montagu. For nine years, Joan and Thomas fight to annul her marriage to Will and have their marriage confirmed…and all the while, Ned lurks around, biding his time, knowing that no matter what, Joan will someday be HIS wife and queen. A tangled knot, indeed.

MY TWO CENTS: This is the kind of book that makes me want to get nonfiction and research the period. The author’s note helps the reader understand how much of the book is “real” and how much is imagined history…and I would have bought a lot more as “real.” It makes sense, though, that history didn’t record a lot of Joan’s early movements.

I feel that Joan and Thomas are an easy couple to root for. I also like that Ned is an ambivalent character…hero one minute, villain the next. As a reader, I was involved enough to want Joan to stay away from him, but you know that’s not going to happen.

Even though the cover indicates romance, this is a fairly clean book. The reader is mostly told that the deed has been done, with no details, which is what I prefer in my historical fiction.

NOTE OF CAUTION: There is an event of animal cruelty that reverberates throughout the entire book. If you are an animal lover, you’ll find this violence disturbing, but it does have a place in the narrative. (Funny how sometimes I get much more upset about descriptions of fictional animal violence than semi-nonfictional human violence.)

BOTTOM LINE: I very much enjoyed this book. I was willing to believe this was all true history, which is a sure sign of good historical fiction. I’ll definitely be picking up Emma Campion’s The King’s Mistress, about Edward III and Alice Perrers,  and probably checking out her books written as Candace Robb as well.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five teacups. Loved it! If you enjoy historical fiction, put this one on your reading list.

ON SALE DATE: The book is available now in paperback and ebook formats; audiobook will be available July 29, 2014.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

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