The Scandalous Duchess by Anne O'Brien
|The Scandalous Duchess by Anne O'Brien|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A hist fict romance more than a hist fict, placing the much-enduring love between Katherine de Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster centre stage. Plantagenet history revolving around them. Can we resist such a guilty pleasure? I couldn't: John had me at prithee! (No, you're right, he doesn't actually say that.)|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 624||Date: March 2014|
|External links: Author's website|
1372: Lady Katherine de Swynford is widowed and in reduced circumstances as a result. She remembers a more sumptuous life before her marriage; a life in the service of Queen Philippa, mother of John, Duke of Lancaster. In the hope of reprising her past lifestyle she goes to the Savoy Palace to beg the Duke for a role in his household. He willingly employs her to help his new wife, Constanza, the Princess of Castille, with her imminent birth but this is a dangerous move. As John and Katherine fall in love and Katherine becomes John's mistress they endanger more than their hearts; their attraction provides ammunition for their enemies, risking fatal results.
English author and former history teacher Anne O'Brien has put me in a bit of a quandary. Before reading this I would have said that I like my historical to be centred on the events of history and their effects. Its fine to bring in a bit of a love interest here and there, but events should remain the focus. However, in The Scandalous Duchess it's the other way around and I'm surprised to say I loved it!
History isn't ignored and Anne has worked hard to ensure that all is as accurate as records allow. Wat Tyler leads the peasants' revolt, war trundles on against France, power struggles ensue but all is linked in with how it affects the see-sawing affair between John and Katherine. We may miss out on detail like King Richard's treacherous negotiations with Wat for instance, but what we get in its place will do more than nicely thank you very much.
Katherine is by turn feisty, bewildered and besotted while yearning for the security that will elude her for most of her life. She remains strong but her heart is torn between God and the man whom God has decreed king (in contemporary theological thinking) which raises all sorts of tensions and confusion for her. She also has Geoffrey Chaucer as a brother in law which would add to anyone's woes. (He definitely doesn't seem husband material!)
John is just as torn but in three directions: between Katherine, his wife Constanza (to whom he's duty and politically bound) and searing ambition. Whatever happens, England has first command over his life as he tries to keep it together despite internal and external foes. It pays off in the end as his line goes on to give us a long list of powerful and successful royal dynasties, starting with the Tudors. At the time we're with him though the future is unknown, uncertain and his seems to be shortening by the day.
Despite all his trials and tribulations we can still see what makes the Duke attractive; Anne O'Brien's John of Gaunt has charm, quite a sense of humour and some great banter. There is also some physical romantic tussling (if you get my meaning) but it stays on the respected side of 'bodice ripper' and is easily skipped if not your goblet of malmsey.
Ok, so this novel may not be for those who like their romance as a side dish or those who seek lashings of historical detail to the exclusion of eyelash fluttering. What we have, however, is a three-dimensional understanding of two people who have perhaps been lost (to my eyes anyway) in the past's bigger picture till now. This is chocolate historical fiction rather than a hist fict salad bar but that makes it feel more of an indulgence and therefore just as enjoyable.
A big thank you to Mira for providing us with a copy for review.
Further Reading: If you'd like to learn more of Katherine, we recommend Katherine Swynford by Alison Weir. If you prefer to indulge in more of Anne O'Brien's brand of historical fiction, we just as heartily recommend Virgin Widow.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Scandalous Duchess by Anne O'Brien at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Scandalous Duchess by Anne O'Brien at Amazon.com.
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