The prelude of the Tudor dynasty.
Publisher: Mira (Harlequin)
First Published: 1st March 2013
Date Reviewed: 8th March 2013
Katherine of Valois, neglected by her parents, is chosen to become the wife of England’s Henry V, bringing the claim to the French throne with her. But Henry is focused on wars and the young Queen’s infatuation does nothing to interest him. At the King’s death, Katherine is not expected to remarry, but that means little when you’re 21 and have never known love.
The Forbidden Queen is O’Brien’s endeavour to bring into the spotlight the grandmother of Henry VII and illustrate the plights of medieval queenship. Drawing both on factual evidence and speculation, she crafts a tale to suit both fans of history and readers looking for romance.
Katherine herself can be a rather annoying and ignorant character, but it is difficult to fault her for a long time due to the background context O’Brien has written (the childhood neglect has neither been confirmed or dismissed by historians so O’Brien’s usage is fair). Considered by themselves, Katherine’s actions are childish, not thought through, and fully of naivety. They are the sorts of actions that readers of strong female characters deplore. However, given Katherine’s childhood – the lack, no, complete absence, of parental care, the punishments and particular upbringing – whilst she may irritate there is a sound reason for it. Indeed O’Brien doesn’t simply list the elements of the childhood and then move on, she provides the details necessary for the reader to understand Katherine’s continuing desperation for love and all the anxiety and bad choices that go along without.
But there comes a limit to how much of the same will work in one book. Over the course of the novel Katherine makes the same mistakes time and time again, quite literally repeating herself. Some have factual basis, but most do not, and whilst the romantic choices are based on speculation that has been passed down through the ages, it was up to O’Brien to fill in the gaps with events that are interesting rather than more of the same. It feels at times as though you’re reading the book a second time, and a lot of it could have been cut out without loosing anything important. The repetition of Katherine and all the mistakes do start to become difficult to understand as the book continues. Despite the background context it is difficult to believe that after a decade of life in England and at court, the Queen would not have learned a thing or two.
Katherine’s inner thoughts are highlighted in italics but she repeatedly ignores the voice of reason and does not understand others’ concerns. She is relentlessly anxious in her repetitive thoughts – angst is the element of the day – and as the book is told in the first person the reader is never given an opportunity to see things from another point of view. This means that whilst there are wars going on, and undoubtedly issues in England due to her son not yet attaining his majority, you do not hear about it, even though it would have surely been in her mind.
Yet because you are stuck in Katherine’s head, there is ample opportunity to get a feel for how it must have been for those who were wronged, and how laws and politics could affect even the most powerful, or in this case simply highest, of women. Locked as she is in her weakness, Katherine rarely puts her heart into rebellion, easily giving up, but through her continual isolation it is possible to draw a picture of what it must have been like for the many other women who suffered similarly. In this way the book will prove interesting to those who feel dowager queens have been forgotten by literature.
And it must be said that Katherine’s utter ignorance creates the perfect situation to educate the reader about society and court expectations for foreign brides. There is also the difference, even if not great, between a mother’s teaching and expectations compared to how the future husband expected his wife to behave. O’Brien demonstrates how a lot of the marital and sexual distances in history might have been shortened had women been brought up to be bold.
The romances in the book enable O’Brien to explore how politics ruled over emotions and how nobles suffered for their riches. They are viewed from the diplomatic angle Katherine must see, except on those occasions when passions triumph over regulations. Understandably the men in the book are secondary characters, even when they are Katherine’s lovers, and O’Brien has moulded them to suit her story.
Liberties are taken but not to extremes, basic anxiety is backed up by context, and the examination into the affects of a mad father and (speculated) debauched mother is undertaken with aplomb.
The Forbidden Queen is admirable for its desire to bring Katherine to the fore, and it’s not a bad book on the whole. But without a solid focus or interesting developments, there isn’t much to recommend Katherine, herself, to memory. If you are looking for romance, however, you may have come to the right place, and the inclusions of well-loved elements will likely keep you reading.
I received this book for review from ED Public Relations.
March 20, 2013, 10:40 am
Enjoyed the review, sounds like an interesting book-.have been watching The Tudors (for better or worse) this week and have spent quite a bit of time pondering the lives of the queens and princesses and how they were used and traded – amazing and infuriating.
March 20, 2013, 11:04 am
I have noticed this book around a lot recently but yours is the first review I’ve read of it. I am pleased O’Brien chose to focus on a Queen that is often over-looked. I am really interesting in reading more fiction about women in an historical setting.
March 20, 2013, 11:14 am
I don’t read romance or historical fiction very often. This book doesn’t sound like my cup of tea at all, but I enjoyed reading your review!
March 20, 2013, 5:04 pm
I find your writing extremely graceful, and what you have said here makes me think that this version of Katherine isn’t for me. I have a lot of trouble with angsty characters, and more so when they repeatedly make the same moves over and over again. I do love this period of history, but think that I will pass this one up due to the flaws in the writing. Choice review today!
March 21, 2013, 3:49 pm
Great review — I’ve not seen a lot of swoons for this one and your review articulates what I suspect might be the ‘problem’. I’m already sort of iffy on this era so I’ll pass on this one — I’m grateful for your honest thoughts!
March 21, 2013, 9:14 pm
I’ve got this to read through Netgalley but haven’t started it yet as I’ve just read another book about Katherine of Valois – The Agincourt Bride by Joanna Hickson. I’ll be interested to see how the two compare.
March 22, 2013, 5:15 pm
Jennifer: Thanks! Oh yes, and it was just as bad before and after those times!
Jessica: Yes, it is great when an author picks a lesser-known person. Do, it’s very interesting!
Laurie: Thank you!
Zibilee: Hi, and thank you! There are angsty characters that work, but yes, Katherine here was a bit too much at times.
Audra: I haven’t come across too many leaning towards negative yet, so I’ll have to have a look.
Helen: That would be very interesting to know how they compare!