Review copy provided by publisher
Harlequin Mira, March 2013
Synopsis- 1415. The Battle of Agincourt is over, and the young princess Katherine de Valois is the prize to be offered to Henry V of England. The innocent Katherine is smitten with Henry, but soon understands that her sole purpose is to produce an heir to unite England and France. When Henry leaves her a widow at the age of 21, Katherine is forced to resign herself to a quiet life as the Dowager Queen; her duty is to raise her son, the young King of England, and little more.
But Katherine is still young and passionate. Many desire her, and her hand in marriage is worth a kingdom. Setting aside those driven by ambition, Katherine falls in love with her servant Owen Tudor, and glimpses the happiness that love can bring. But their enemies are circling, all battling for power and determined to prevent their marriage. Katherine will have to fight to control her own destiny…
In this compelling and beautifully written book, Anne O’Brien tells the story of the innocent young princess, Katherine de Valois, a pawn in a ruthless political game between England and France, and the woman who founded the most famous royal dynasty of all – the Tudors.
Review- The Forbidden Queen by Anne O’Brien is the historical retelling of Queen Katherine and her journey from being a neglected, love deprived French princess to becoming the wife of King Henry of England. In the midst of political difficulties between France and England against the backdrop of a war, Katherine is sacrificed to the King as an attempt to conciliate the divide. During the early days of her marriage she is flattered by the King’s attention and naively she believes she is in love with him. Why wouldn’t she? She hasn’t experienced love before and so this man who is older than her who chooses her over every other woman to become his wife certainly plants the seed for her infatuation. She is desperate to love and be loved. Unfortunately, Henry’s loyalty lies elsewhere, in the running of the country and the pursuit of the war. He is away for lengthy periods of time and often the only time they have together is the brief interludes in which they try to conceive an heir.
After much anticipation, Katherine births Henry’s first son, the heir of the crown. But she is lonely, desperate to connect with Henry in some way and for him to fall in love with her. Her son gives her something to hold onto and she vows he will not have the same neglectful, emotionally deprived childhood that she had- but the powers of his status in the kingdom discounts her maternal wishes and in fact his upbringing becomes exactly what she didn’t want. He is raised by strangers and moulded in to the next King of England.
When Henry dies unexpectedly and has made no provisions for Katherine she is devastated, hurt and lacks direction in life. Years of mourning follow and clearly she becomes depressed. She has no confidante and no emotional support apart from the household servants and maids. She feels like an outsider in England. Until young Edmond Beaufort bounces into her life and brings some light into her day. He is slightly younger and is quick to declare his love for her. Katherine, a little uncertain at first as she has always thought herself unlovable, is caught up with Edmund’s intense attention and believes she too is in love with him. The council associated with the King is not happy with this liaison and refuses to consent to the marriage between the young couple. They fear Edmund is ambitious and could threaten her son’s future role of King. Katherine is adamant that she will marry Edmund, but the council overpower her and in fact change the law so that she cannot marry without their consent (and the consent of the King who at this time is only a few years old) and if a man does marry her without consent they will lose everything. Katherine is faced with the shocking reality of a man faced with a choice between love and status. Edmund chooses status. Katherine was heartbroken and determined to never let her heart be manipulated again.
Until she catches sight of the Head of Household Owen Tudor one day who emerges out of the lake half-dressed and carefree and Katherine really notices him for the first time. She experiences lust for the first time in her life. And even though her head tells her it’s a bad idea to pursue this, she can’t seem to stop herself, her mind is full of Owen Tudor. There’s some initial ambivalence between Owen and Katherine as they both have a lot to lose by engaging in an affair and I thought this was sensitively written as it really captures Katherine’s difficult relationship history and her fear of being hurt and rejected. She feels she is unlovable. Owen sets out to show her unconditional real love and he does.
I really enjoy O’Brien’s historical retellings about women who overcome adversity, find strength in situations where they are powerless and challenge what was expected of women of the times. The first person viewpoint is always a little tricky for me and in the beginning of the story there was a little overuse of telling rather than showing, but this was probably necessary to illustrate the time that passed and to move the story along. Katherine is a character that I empathised with and I really wanted her to find happiness. She undergoes enormous growth throughout the story from a naïve, self-conscious young girl to a woman who knows her own mind and fights for her rights. It was frustrating when she began to associate with Edmund because everyone in her life were anxious about his intentions which overflowed into the reader and so I couldn’t become too invested in that relationship. But it was her relationship with Owen when I was truly captured even if this relationship was introduced quite late in the story. I admired how they stood beside each other and fought to be together.
My only criticism would be the ending. I wish the last 2 pages of the last chapter and the epilogue weren’t there. It’d be nice to end on a happier note. The demise of her mental health put quite a sad spin on the happy outcome for Katherine and Owen. I understand that the author wanted to keep to the details of history… but I’d prefer to have been left wondering about what might have come instead of coming on such a long journey with Katherine only for it to end desolately.
The Forbidden Queen explores the life of historical figure Queen Katherine in the 1400’s and presents a heroine who undergoes immense growth and displays determination and strength despite the limitations of the time period and her status. I recommend this story for historical fiction fans and this is an author I will gladly read more of. I previously read and reviewed her novel, The King’s Concubine.
“I loved this book!”
The Forbidden Queen can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers.
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