The Shadow Queen by Anne O’Brien ~Goodreads~
Published by HarperCollins 2017
Hardback edition 560 pages ~Book Depository~
Thank you Bethan James at ED Public Relations for inviting me on another brilliant historical fiction novel from Anne O’Brien- Enjoy my review and an extract just for you!
1340. Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent, learns that she is to marry William Montagu, heir to the Earldom of Salisbury, an alliance that will redeem their family after her father’s execution for treason. But Joan cannot marry her childhood friend Will. At just 12 years old, she has fallen in love with, and secretly married Sir Thomas Holland, a humble knight who is currently fighting in France with the King. Furious, her mother and the Montagu family convince Joan to marry Will, despite her feelings of guilt. But when Sir Thomas returns, he is determined to win back his wife, no matter what. Joan must quickly learn to navigate the dangerous and seductive world of the royal court, with its treachery, subterfuge, and power-hungry families…
“I was a woman of some consequence, an object of desire like a fine jewel without flaw, set in a mount of pure gold.
I inspected my reflection in my mirror. The ivory surround had become worn over the years but the face that looked back at me was little changed. If anything the years had given my features more clarity, more strength. My hair, now in seemly order beneath my mourning veil, was untouched by time. I was still the Fair Maid of my early years.
I put the mirror away.
There should be much to please me here, but there were also, growing strongly through the hard carapace of my daily existence, the seeds of future uncertainty. The path of my life would take an unforeseen direction. I might be a widow of a bare three months, but it had been made known to me that there was already a handful of men close to the king, or who would desire to be so, men who were widowed or unwed, who would seek me out.
I was not so naive that I could not expect this.
So there would be offers for my hand. I had already seen the speculative gleam in King Edward’s eye after we buried Thomas in Stamford. Why wait? he was thinking. I could see it in his mind as he escorted me back to Woodstock. Here is the perfect wife – if one could ignore the taint of past scandals and a wilful disposition behind the beautiful exterior – to tie some influential man to the English throne, or reward a good friend for services rendered. Who will be the fortunate man?
Edward had been generous in his care of me on that journey, considerate of my sadness; I had been forgiven; I was his dear cousin again. Now that I was aware of the tenor of his thoughts I could feel him assessing my worth as a bride on every occasion that our paths crossed. Perhaps a bride to be sent beyond the sea. He might see it as an advantage to remove an uncomfortable presence and make an strong alliance at one and the same time. My title and my wealth would be just another jewel to dangle before a mighty foreign lord.
So I must remarry.
Ah, but would I be allowed my own free choice, or indeed any influence at all in Edward’s choice of ally.
More unpalatable food for thought to land on my platter.
Edward would want his own way in this, but, I decided, I would fight against his royal command, if that choice proved disagreeable to me. I could fight not to wed at all. Had not my mother remained unwed through all the years after my father’s death? Had she ever been sought as a wife, and refused? I did not know.
Yet did I wish to remain isolated, unwed for the rest of my life, a femme sole, a nun in everything but life behind walls and locked doors? I had had quite enough of that experience, brief as it had been, at Bisham. There were advantages to having a powerful husband, for a woman who might interest herself in the world beyond her solar. I had ambitions. I had always had ambitions, and I would have them again. But now I was desolate, ground down by what must be a grief I could not express, one that kept me company from sunrise to sunset as well as through the dark hours. Yet I hid it well at Court where it was easy to fill the moments of time with the habitual cycle of attendance on the Queen, a daily appearance at Mass, the donning of a fair face for any audience when my presence was demanded and I could make no excuse. I did all this with a straight spine and proud demeanour, rejecting any pity, hiding my melancholy until I was behind the closed door of my own chamber, my women banished. Even there, empty of all emotions, tears did not come.
So I sat, spinning out my future like a spider in its web, but my spinning collapsed into a heap of unconnected strands. I could not see my future. My dreams and hopes, once so well-structured, were formless.”
Having read Anne O’Brien’s ‘The Queen’s Choice’ last year I was thrilled to be asked to be part of her new blog tour for The Shadow Queen.
What instantly catches my attention with Anne’s books, is her choice to write about female figures in history and for me personally one’s I haven’t come across before. I find it so refreshing to learn even just an outline of events that happened to this real person, and discovering Anne’s own take on them. In the Shadow Queen we meet Joan of Kent, the mother to Richard II.
At the beginning of the story we learn that Joan is secretly married to Thomas Holland, a knight who is far below her social rank. I really liked Joan’s character and how throughout the book though she is a young royal, she is just a normal lady who endures her flaws and decisions good and bad. What makes Joan also interesting to me is the notable figures surrounding her such as Edward III and The Black Prince. I enjoyed learning of her connections and how she fits in with the royal clan as it were, but also how crucial this period of history was.
I feel like I have read a copious amount of historical fiction that only focus on The Tudors and The War of The Roses, which I love of course but dipping my head into Medieval historical fiction has been wonderful, and Anne tells Joan’s story in such a powerful way. She doesn’t dwell on romance for it’s entirety but the position of women at this time, particularly with regards to their duties as a member of the royal family.
A throughly enjoyable read that had me hooked from the start. Anne has made me want to learn even more about Joan of Kent. I’m excited to see what Anne writ d next!
Anne O’Brien was born in the West Riding of Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in the East Riding for many years where she taught History. Leaving teaching – but not her love of history – Anne turned to novel writing and her passion for giving voice to the oft forgotten women of the medieval era was born. Today Anne lives in an eighteenth-century cottage in Herefordshire, an area steeped in history and full of inspiration for her work.