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 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.