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Feb 13, 2013

The Forbidden Queen by Anne O'Brien

A tale of Katherine's heart, and her woes.

The Forbidden Queen by Anne O'Brien
Mira Publications, March 1, 2013
Advance Review copy eBook from NetGalley
Burton Book Review Rating: 3 stars

1415. The Battle of Agincourt is over, and the young French 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. Henry will take Katherine, not for her beauty, not for a treaty of peace - but for nothing less than the glittering French crown itself. For Katherine, a pawn in a ruthless political game, England is a lion's den of greed, avarice and mistrust. And when the magnificent King leaves her widowed at twenty-one she is a prize ripe for the taking. Her enemies are circling, her heart is on her sleeve, her hand in marriage is worth a kingdom. 
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.

This is the story of Katherine of Valois, and as the cover suggests, she played an important role in the founding of England's Tudor dynasty. Before she got to that point in her life, the story puts her in a nunnery and then married to the King of England as a young woman. Being married to Henry V, I was expecting a bit more pluck or spunk from Katherine, but we didn't get that. Her new ladies in waiting ridiculed her for being a timid mouse. We read of her daily wishes to be closer to Henry, as she was merely an object of his ambition towards the French crown. Henry V was business like, and only available to beget heirs, and so we were subjected to Katherine's woeful reflections of Henry. Katherine's character became quite boring as she pined for Henry, while he was near and then when he was dead.

Without  Henry and his guidance, Katherine becomes depressed and despondent and feeling quite useless in her role to look pretty and dignified until Edmund Beaufort comes along and entertains and woos her. Her world then revolves around Edmund. (And when that fell through, oh horrors.. couldn't see that coming...) She falls for a servant, a major no-no for a Queen. Amidst the love affairs, she has meetings with the council members regarding her status; she must be respectful as a Queen Dowager and think of her son's future as the King of England at all times. Once the council realizes that Katherine is indeed her lustful mother's daughter they even go so far as to rule that the Queen may not wed unless the King and his council agree to it (Henry VI the King was still quite young and wouldn't reach his majority for many years).

Anne O'Brien takes on this character of Katherine as a complete focus on her and her life. She leaves out historical nuances and details except for the times that Katherine had to face the irate council members who wanted Katherine to live out a chaste life. I was getting quite bored with Katherine's need for romance until the last ten percent of the book, where Master Owen steps up to the plate and offers some well needed drama. Even though the synopsis introduces Owen Tudor in the second paragraph, it wasn't until at least halfway through that Owen starts to become a major figure.

I would have loved to see more of the children, more name dropping of the important figures of the time, or even an idea of what year we were in. I was reading from an eBook, so perhaps chapter headings with dates/places/settings would be added later. The cover features the red blob that touts "Better than Philippa Gregory" which I found untrue. If O'Brien placed a bit more emphasis on the events of the era and other political figures, or added more historical details perhaps I could have entertained that notion of being in the same league of Gregory. (The dispute of whether Gregory is a historically accurate author left aside, at least Gregory offers us a meaty take on the era she writes).

This story was 98% romance in my opinion, and the constant need Katherine had for any significant other was grating. "The fundamental aching need that had touched me when I had seen him stride from the river had not lessened with the passage of time. It had grown until I had no peace." A Mr Darcy moment, perhaps?

This was my first read on Katherine, and I am not sure I need to read anything else on her. This characterization of Katherine did little to win me over. To stoop so low as to wed a servant? A Welshman at that, who was forbidden to even wear a sword? A Queen Dowager? If only the writing was focused less on the romance angle and a bit more of a sweeping tale from a few angles, even more political ones, I could have appreciated it more. There was no interaction with her family from France, just the stigmas of her eccentric parents that followed Katherine. And no mention of her elder sister Isabella who was also a Queen of England before her. The purpose of Katherine's marriage to Henry V was to offer the French crown to Henry as opposed to her brother Charles. And the famous Joan of Arc was a proud supporter of Charles, and she was not a single blip on Katherine's radar according to this telling.

I felt the first person narration of Katherine limited the scope and since the author also chose to limit the scope to the romance, there was very little complexity in it. Most history lovers of the era already know the marriage partners of Katherine of Valois, and the author simply filled in the blanks for how Katherine related to those men, and I was hoping for more. But I am in the minority here, so perhaps it was just bad timing on my part, as there are quite a few glowing stars in favor of the book on Goodreads.  Recommended for those readers eager for the story of Katherine and her heart's content, and her woes. Based on that, if you like romance stories, and its plights to a queen, you should enjoy this quick reading romance based on a lesser-known historical figure.