All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

The Forbidden Queen – Anne O’Brien

on March 28, 2013

Forbidden QueenThe Forbidden Queen
Anne O’Brien
Harlequin MIRA
2013, 613p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher

Katherine de Valois is a political pawn – the daughter of the unstable King Charles of France and the power-hungry Queen Isabeau, she is offered up to the English King, Henry V as his bride with the carrot of the French crown dangling over her head. It’s something that Henry cannot resist and even though he is twice her age, they are to be wed.

Katherine falls in love with her dashing husband, her expectations about how this marriage will go rather romantic. But once the vows are said and they are back in England and Katherine has been crowned as Queen, her husband is mostly absent, shoring up his troops and fighting his wars, suppressing the French rebellions, some of which are led by one of Katherine’s own brothers. She finds herself alone with ladies in waiting who regard her with disdain.

By the time she is 21, Katherine is a widow but her position in politics is still very important as she is mother to the Young King. Henry managed to beget an heir he never even got to meet and it is Katherine’s duty to help guide him in early life but more importantly, to remain chaste and pure, doing her duty to the crown. A Dowager Queen has never remarried before but Katherine is only young. She finds herself achingly lonely, wishing for companionship, more to life than overseeing the Young King, who is slowly been taken from her anyway by his inevitable duty to Crown and Country.

After one failed betrothal that was blocked by the Council, Katherine falls in love with her servant, a young Welshman by the name of Owen Tudor. But the odds are against them for many reasons, not just their differing stations and the firm belief that the Dowager Queen should not remarry. But Katherine has spent many years being meek and doing what has been told of her. She has seen her chance at happiness and she’s going to take it.

Sometimes the marriages of political princesses and faraway Kings have a happy ending in literature, but this was technically not one of those times. After a miserable and love-deprived childhood with only her sister Michelle as a bright spot, Katherine had romantic and high hopes for her marriage, none of which came to fruition. Henry V is painted as a fair and good man but not a romantic one – he is concerned with his wars and retaining power and acquiring more. It’s not hard to see that his new wife doesn’t much factor into his thoughts other than him attempting to get her with child in order for him to have an heir. Nonetheless Katherine loves him deeply but also perhaps immaturely, and she mourns him greatly when he dies of dysentery abroad.

Katherine is a character that comes into her own after the death of her husband. Although still restricted, she manages to find love in a very unlikely place, with that of her servant Owen. I loved the character of Owen Tudor – their impending romance is foreshadowed early, as Owen is very much a tall, dark, handsome presence in the background and I really enjoyed the way that he was written. He was a proud man, of good lineage and even wealth but because he was Welsh all of that had been stripped from him. He had no lands, could own no lands, could carry no weapon and now he thought to be able to marry the Dowager Queen – naturally this meant that they gained themselves some enemies but I loved the way in which Katherine really came into her own after she began a relationship with Owen. She grew up, she matured and she began to recognise her own intelligence and power and learn how to wield both in order to get what she thought she deserved. Despite some ridiculous restrictions she managed to argue her way out of them and although I found it difficult to warm to her at first, the further I got into this book, the more I liked her. I really got behind the developing romance between her and Owen – it had a ring of authenticity to their actions and the two of them had a very enjoyable chemistry.

The following paragraph is ***SPOILERISH***

This is quite a long book and I think that the first part, Katherine’s marriage to Henry V, could’ve been a bit shorter. He’s absent for almost the entire time and very little happens in this section. The real story seems to begin after his death as Katherine learns that she has to find her own friends and go her own way. Although this book is based loosely on historical fact, I see that the author has taken some liberties (particularly with the number of children Katherine seems to have had) and I do wish she’d ended the story a fraction earlier than she did. That part may be historically accurate, or close to it, but it brings about a huge let down in the reader. You’ve spent the better part of 600 pages getting to know a character, watch her go from a shy, meek, overlooked young woman to one who grows into herself and finds her happiness and grabs it with both hands and then…the ending is a letdown. It makes the book end on a very flat note which is disappointing after such a long commitment! I think I could’ve lived without knowing Katherine’s fate, or found out for myself later on researching the characters. I’d like a little mystery left at the end and the belief of long happiness.

7/10

Book #73 of 2013

**Please note this review is based upon an uncorrected proof copy and the final version may be different.

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