The Queen's Choice by Anne O'Brien
|The Queen's Choice by Anne O'Brien|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: An interesting fictionalised study of Henry IV and his lesser known Queen, Joanna of Navarre. Majoring on Joanna's viewpoint the story skittles past some pivotal moments but what a story we're left with!|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 560||Date: January 2016|
|External links: Author's website|
Joanna of Navarre may be married to John IVth Duke of Britany but she has views of her own and isn't afraid to voice them, even to Charles the French King. When she defends exiled English noble Henry Bolingbroke at the French court she does so as a friend not realising what the future holds. For Bolingbroke is the future Henry IV and fate will decree that Joanna will become his queen, both roles taking their toll on each - as a couple and as individuals.
British author Anne O'Brien is known for putting the love stories of historical nobility under the romantic historical fiction microscope. In this case Anne chooses someone of whom we don’t hear much: Joanna (aka Joan) of Navarre.
Told in Joanna's first person narrative, we go from the time when she merely knows friend of the family Henry right through to his death and its huge effect on her life. Even before that, this lady who was one of the strongest women in history, goes through several changes, the most notable being from French/Burgundian Duchess to English consort.
As John's wife back in the French court Joanna had a position of actual as well as nominal power. She had areas of responsibility and so wasn't prepared for the demotion to figurehead and husband's addendum in the eyes of English law and kingdom.
That wasn't the only change though: Henry the exile she falls in love with in France is very different to Henry the King. In modern terms it's almost like trying to make a holiday romance work as a marriage with the added complications of a justifiably paranoid Henry and a Joanna loathed by her adopted nation. Yes, there's plenty of fact and psychology around the match for Anne to get stuck into and she uses both well.
My only niggle with The Queen's Choice is the pieces that are missing. There's an old chestnut of a limitation on anyone who writes 14th/15th century historical fiction from a woman's viewpoint no matter how good an author is (and Anne is indeed very good). We can only follow and see/hear what Joanna does which means battles and moments like the Percy plot with Owain Glendower are passed over in hearsay and quick conversation. Although, credit to Anne, she does go out of her way to ensure there's a credible reason for Joanna to be present at a particularly important discussion between Henry and Parliament so that we don't miss it. However the number and the importance of the missing/glossed over pieces means that, for me, this isn't my favourite of Anne's novels.
Having said that, no book is the final word on a subject and this is therefore a companion book or 'appetite whetter' to other historical fiction that ventures more outside the royal's relationship. The Queen's Choice does provide us with insights and a feeling for a woman who gave much in exchange for a country that misunderstood her. It's therefore a valuable – and fascinating – read for those who would like to know more about the machinations of love versus duty at the court of the Plantagenets.
(Thank you to the publishers, Mira, for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If this appeals then we highly recommend Anne's Devil's Consort or The Scandalous Duchess. If you're already a fan and would like to read more fiction around life in other past French royal courts, we also recommend A Lover's Pinch by Jean Ravencourt.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Queen's Choice by Anne O'Brien at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Queen's Choice by Anne O'Brien at Amazon.com.
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