The Forbidden Queen by Anne O’Brien
Genre: Historical-fiction, Romance, Adult
The novel follows the journey of a young girl, Katherine de Valois who is realistically a mistreated, unloved French princess largely forgotten until she becomes of use as a pawn in peace agreements through marriage. She is thrust upon King Henry V in peace talks during the Hundred Years War and he is a man driven by war, with little interest in a wife except for producing an heir.
Katherine must deal with being largely unwanted by her husband, except to produce an heir, the consequences of being mother to the heir of the throne, being left widow and being the foreign enemy in an English court. A court inundated with controlling men, who have little time for a woman and her opinions and feelings. This forces Katherine to grow up in rather harsh conditions and lays testament to her strength with broken hearts, battles with those in power and struggles to be a mother.
The Forbidden Queen is a novel set in the prelude to one of my favourite periods of history, and this always leaves me wary to picking up such a novel. In general, historical-fiction as a history student is always a difficult one, because whilst I enjoy delving into a more imaginative side of history, sometimes the disregard for standard facts aggravates me. However, The Forbidden Queen whilst clearly being based on lots of imagination in terms of conversations, and the real dynamics of relationships during this time, managed to encompass what I feel the 1400s would have felt like in England. I believe she encapsulated personalities and struggles from the events, and stuck largely to historical detail and it made a truly fantastic novel!
Katherine de Valois was a woman I fell in love with in this novel, my heart warmed to her throughout the novel. At the start I felt like she was childish and deluded, but part of the magic in this novel was how O’Brien developed her character and showed true growth to her as an individual that I imagine would to some degree be a true reflection. After all, when she left France, she was a scared young girl, basically still a child and by the time she was widow and mother to the heir of the kingdom, she was a much stronger, more capable individual and a woman with her own mind. Overall she was a likeable, strong individual and an important historical figure. After all, she birthed a king of England and was grandmother to another king of England, difficult to disregard such a woman in English history, even if she was the enemy!
There is ultimately a strong focus on romance throughout this book, and Katherine’s yearning for true affection, after receiving little from the Mad King, Charles VI her father and her mother the Isabeau a woman accused of adultery. Affection during this period was not common within royal families anyway, because the children were rarely raised by their parents. So Katherine stumbles through her early marriage, desperate for Henry V’s seal of approval, however he is much more interested in war. O’Brien really manages to interweave the romance with the historical events and descriptions, that provides greater plot and substance to the story.
Ultimately, the best part of the book for me does not arrive until much later in the story when Katherine meets Owen Tudor, which is when my attention was truly captivated. I have to warn you, O’Brien makes you work for happiness in this story, and it certainly tugs on your emotions, even at the end! The relationship between Katherine and Owen is everything is should honestly be, it develops once Katherine has achieved the kind of self-growth necessary to experience love, and Owen does not overpower her opinions. They are clearly an equal couple and one that I fully supported by the end, especially since it was something that actually happened.
O’Brien honestly brought these historical figures to life for me, she drew me into the English court and all the secrets, plots, hopes and dreams and weaved her magic with words. It was descriptive enough for me to visualise everything, yet O’Brien was never excessive. Overall The Forbidden Queen drew me into the 1400s with ease and elegance and kept my attention throughout. It is honestly a masterpiece in historical-fiction, and I encourage everyone to read it, not only because it serves to educate you a little about the basic happenings and people of this time in a fun, engaging and beautiful way, but it is genuinely a quality piece of fiction. I’ll be looking to get my hands on more O’Brien books now!
The Rating: 4.5 / 5 Stars
Extra note: I had an extremely busy week last week with moving back to University, packing and I also am pleased to announce, I can now drive because I finally passed my practical driving test! So hopefully I will be back to a regular posting schedule and dropping by your blogs from now on!