The Tudor Bride (Katherine of Valois #2) by Joanna Hickson

This is the second book by Joanna Hickson about the life of Katherine of Valois, who was queen to Henry V, mother of Henry VI, and through her second marriage to Owen Tudor, grandmother to Henry VII. The first book, The Agincourt Bride, was previously reviewed here. I actually enjoyed this book much more than the first.

The Tudor Bride Front Cover (HarperCollins)

The Tudor Bride Front Cover (HarperCollins)

THE PLOT: Katherine and Henry V are happily married and have returned to England. Eventually, Katherine gives birth to a son, the heir to the throne. Their happiness is short-lived, though, when Henry suddenly dies. At age 21, Katherine is relegated to the less-glamorous status of queen mother to a child king. Her brother-in-law Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and now Lord Protector, is desperately trying to keep her out of the limelight, away from her son, and unmarried. (Naturally the young king’s stepfather would gain considerable power; maybe even enough to rival Humphrey’s). But Katherine’s growing love for her Master of the Wardrobe, Owen Tudor, inspires her to risk everything for a second chance at a happy marriage and family life.

The book also continues the story of Katherine’s companion and mother figure, Mette, who finds a new love and family of her own. All isn’t rosy for Mette and Katherine, though. Now an adult, Katherine starts to look for friends closer to her own station. Whether those friends are true friends or people looking out for their own interests is another matter. And a woman Katherine crosses early in the book plays a role in bringing about Katherine’s downfall, and even her death.

MY TWO CENTS: I felt that the adult Katherine’s voice was much more authentic in this book, and somehow, the relationship problems between her and Mette really brought both characters to life. It makes sense that Katherine would be influenced by other nobles even more than she would be by her beloved servant, whose origins were quite low. With Jacqueline of Hainault and Eleanor Cobham both stirring the pot, there is almost constant conflict offsetting what could have been a humdrum time of marriage and childrearing (even with the added spice of the marriage being secret). I’m sorry we didn’t get to see Eleanor Cobham horsewhipped or something, but at least we know she didn’t end her life where she wanted (and plotted) to be. I don’t know how much Eleanor truly had to do with Katherine’s dying in the convent, but this book certainly made her the villain.

BOTTOM LINE: If historical novels are your thing, you are likely to enjoy this one. The twists and turns will have you doing research to see how much is true history (a surprising amount). Katherine certainly led an interesting life! And her blood still runs in today’s British royals, through the descendants of her great-granddaughter Margaret. I’ll look forward to Hickson’s next book, Red Rose, White Rose, about Cecily Neville, Duchess of York (mother to Edward IV and Richard III).

TEACUP RATING: About four-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The book will be on sale in paperback and e-formats on March 5, 2015.

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

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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