The King's Sister by Anne O'Brien

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The King's Sister by Anne O'Brien

Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Anne O'Brien's follow up to The Scandalous Duchess centres on John of Gaunt's daughter Elizabeth of Lancaster in a story of blood-versus-water conflicting loyalty. Not as superlative as the Duchess, but still a very good way to while away a winter afternoon.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 560 Date: November 2014
Publisher: MIRA
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1848453463

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It's England in 1380 and 17 year old Elizabeth of Lancaster has always dreamt of her betrothal and the sort of love of which balladeers sing. So when she meets the person her father has lined up, her face drops to say the least. The Earl of Pembroke is eight years old so she's not pleased. However one day love will find her and cruelly cause her to choose between the love of her life and family with fatal consequences.

British historical fiction author Anne O'Brien indulges us again with her special way of viewing history via romantic encounters. Any fan will tell you that Anne specialises in relationships and feelings while the history goes on peripherally. In the excellent The Scandalous Duchess we enjoyed the on-off-on-again affair between charismatic, witty John of Gaunt and his mistress Katherine de Swynford. This time out we watch his daughter as she shuns political matches for love and then has to choose where her loyalty really lies.

This novel overlaps with Anne's previous volume so we join the action after the quelled English revolts and Katherine's withdrawal from court and from John's life. The Duke of Lancaster is therefore back at court and back with the second missus, Constanza the Infanta of Castille. He occupies himself with affairs of state and making alliances for his daughters that he hopes will cause fortune to shine on his half-brother King Richard II as well as England and himself (not necessarily in that order). Under these circumstances Elizabeth doesn’t stand an earthly of getting her own way but no one has told Elizabeth this! She is most definitely a young lady with a mind of her own.

We therefore cringe for 17 year old Elizabeth when she realises she's been betrothed to an 8-year-old. In the same way, we cringe for the 8-year-old John Hastings, third Earl of Pembroke when we realise what a spoilt brat Elizabeth is. I didn't cringe for long though; Pembroke is definitely one of my favourite characters because he is so timelessly, typically a little boy, making me smile whenever he appears.

Elizabeth tells us her own story, enabling us to understand the girl and her eventual infatuation with ambitious, ruthless, charming John Holland. (Yes, the Plantagenet era when everyone of note seemed to be called John or Richard!) However this first person narrative also has its drawbacks.

Even though history is its own spoiler, I'll try not to reveal too much for those unfamiliar with the era; suffice it to say that there's a lot of action at this time in the form of battles, betrayals and attempted coups. Unfortunately we're shackled to Elizabeth who doesn’t go to fight or join conspirators' meetings. This, then, is the first person narrative trap – we can only live vicariously through events for which she's present. It may not be a problem for others but I found myself yearning for battles and plots to be played out in front of me moment by moment instead of relying on rumour, report and potted updates. Perhaps for me it would have been a more complete story if the first person narrative had been John Holland's? He may not have the Duke of Lancaster's sense of humour but he certainly lived a life!

Having said that, Anne can certainly turn on the melting moments as historical romance is reanimated as convincingly as the bygone figures themselves. Once again we're reminded that people such as the three Johns, Elizabeth, Katherine and Richard were just like we are now but in differing circumstances. For instance there's a wonderful moment when Elizabeth has to explain her complicated love life to her father. His reaction? I can do without this! Cue for parents of teenagers to smile and nod wryly!

This may not be a novel for serious hist-fict groupies but there again it's not meant to be. Instead Anne shows us what it's like to be alive in a time when life was cheap and love could be deadly, engaging our emotions rather than our intellect but without dumbing down or becoming Mills and Boone. Last time I described Anne's work as hist-fict chocolate rather than salad bar and, with the long winter evenings closing in, chocolate is always welcome so it's an analogy I'll stick with.

(Thank you, MIRA, for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If you enjoyed this, you'll love The Scandalous Duchess. If you'd rather step off the historical roundabout at a different Plantagenet moment, we also recommend The Princes In The Tower by Alison Weir.

Buy The King's Sister by Anne O'Brien at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The King's Sister by Anne O'Brien at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The King's Sister by Anne O'Brien at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The King's Sister by Anne O'Brien at Amazon.com.


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