The Shadow Queen by Anne O'Brien

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The Shadow Queen by Anne O'Brien

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Another strong Plantagenet woman comes under Anne O'Brien's historical fiction microscope. She normally picks some corkers but this one out-corks most: Joan of Kent's amazing life is herein transformed to a riveting read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 560 Date: May 2017
Publisher: HQ
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1848455078

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Born in 1328, Joan of Kent may be of royal blood but she's from a family tainted by treachery. Her father Edmund Woodstock, 1st Earl of Kent, was executed for his part in the infamous Montague plot. However Joan has grown up under the protection of her cousin, King Edward III with all the advantages and attributes of a princess. Yet, much to her mother's chagrin, obedience isn't one of these attributes. Joan's head strong feist takes her on a varied journey in life. Having said that, three husbands, five marriages (technically) and a son destined for the English throne means that it's also been one heck of a life!

We're used to novelist and historian Anne O'Brien bringing some fascinating mediaeval women to our attention. Thanks to her research and skill, we've been intrigued by the likes of Elizabeth of Lancaster and Joanne of Navarre while falling in love with men like John of Gaunt on the way. Yet Joan of Kent (posthumously known as the Fair Maid of Kent) pips the lot.

There are many view on Joan: flirty/manipulative, power hungry or a victim of love who just went on to do what she had to? Anne leads us through the phases and leads us to make our own minds up.

Anne lets rip with her talent on full blast, playing our expectations and hurling revelational hand grenades at us throughout. In fact, if you haven't heard of Joan before, I suggest you don't Wiki till you've finished the book as lack of knowledge heightens the many shocks and surprises. I only knew of her as the shadowy mother to the boy King Richard I, at odds with the aforementioned Gaunt so hearing the full story changed my judgement on the lass completely.

I started in the 'she's a silly girl' camp as the pubescent Joan follows a crush to extremes. The object of her love is Knight Thomas Holland. Their relationship quickly becomes a lesson to us in casting aside modern ideas and standards, Thomas is about 14 years older than 12 year old Joan so very different times and with shorter life expectancy comes a smaller window for building a future.

Objectively Thomas has a lot to gain by courting the King's cousin so does he do it for love or money? We naturally opt for love as we see what follows and why the pair choose secrecy. We may not totally share Joan's mother's extreme rage but we can forgive it!

This moment of romantic impulsiveness sets the tone and a string of events in Joan's life that will take decades to play out. Gradually she does take control of her destiny and learns (through trial and error) to make some rather astute plans.

It's also via Thomas that Anne provides us with an interesting and unexpected downside of the life of a jobbing warrior. If there's not a war, it's not just Thomas's boredom rates that change, his coffers drop as, apart from any income from lands and goods, the only time he's earning is when he's away fighting or trying to squeeze a groat or two from a tournament.

Anne also raises an interesting juxtaposition part way through the story. Joan has some run-ins (to say the least) with Alice Perrers, the mistress Edward III took when Queen Philippa became ill. Anne's loyalties are with Philippa thinking Alice is an opportunistic money-grabber. Yet we get the distinct impression that they're both very similar in their attempts at survival, differentiated only by where fate placed them at birth.

There is generally much mumbling in the hist-fict world when a female character has a modern day cloak of feminism thrust upon her to prove a point. In this case that's not been necessary: Joan of Kent is a woman ahead of her time who knew her own mind and spent a lifetime working on ways to project her will on those who wished to dominate her. It didn't make her life any easier but it sure makes a cracking read!

(We'd like to thank HQ for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: You may get the feeling that anything by Anne O'Brien is a good place to start and you'd be right. If you're already a fan and looking for more royal-strong-women based historical fiction, we just as heartily recommend For My Sins by Alex Nye, the story of Mary Queen of Scots.

Buy The Shadow Queen by Anne O'Brien at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Shadow Queen by Anne O'Brien at

Buy The Shadow Queen by Anne O'Brien at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Shadow Queen by Anne O'Brien at


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