The Agincourt Bride by Joanna Hickson
|The Agincourt Bride by Joanna Hickson
|Category: Historical Fiction
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson
|Summary: A fascinating look at 15th century royal court life, French style. The star of the show is Mette the narrator, not the royal Catherine de Valois, but Mette's so good that's no hardship.
|Date: January 2013
Shortlisted for Romantic Novelist Association Historical Romantic Novel 2014
Baker's daughter Guillaumette Dupain, aged 15, mourns for her still-born baby but her tragedy becomes others' gain. Young Mette is sent to the Hotel de San Pol, home of the French royal family to become wet nurse to the latest child produced by the sickly Charles VI and his wife, Isabella of Bavaria. The infant is Catherine de Valois; destined to be the mother of an English dynasty. But first she must live long enough to marry an English king and being a 15th century royal is a dangerous existence when your greatest enemies are in your own family.
Joanna Hickson has spent a life time preparing to write this novel. Before she wrote her children's novel or the Scottish novels under the name of Joanna McDonald, even before she spent 25 years writing for the BBC she was a child drawn to stories of Catherine and her international connections.
The story is told in the first person by the fictional Mette. She undoubtedly loves Catherine, devoting her life to her service and the beautiful Catherine returns and recognises this affection in many ways. However, Catherine is no brainless beauty. She learns the art of politics and manipulation at an early age through necessity, still managing to appear as a beacon of goodness amidst the dark acquisitiveness of her mother and Isabella's lover, the Duke of Burgundy. He also happens to be Catherine's cousin and evil with no apparent redeeming qualities, but this is justified by the voice that recounts the tale. Where Catherine and Mette are concerned, he has done and continues to do himself no favours in the popularity stakes.
The courtly world is as interesting as it is dangerous. Catherine's father suffers from a debilitating mental illness making him a puppet king. As befits her position, Catherine's lot is that of political pawn with an on-again-off-again future which proves understandably unsettling. Just as unsettling as the French underestimating the English at Agincourt, another key event of Catherine's early life as Charles VI's army is trounced by archers.
Agincourt presents a problem because our eyes, Mette, as Catherine's nurse, wouldn't have been present at the battle. We therefore depend on news brought back by heralds, meaning we're one step removed from the action in the battle but, on the whole, the intrigues and problems with the royal household we're tied to keep us occupied.
Joanna Hickson's passion shows in the novel's length and occasionally it felt a little over-written. Also, very occasionally, something jarred. (Did people in the 15th century really refer to weird guys and would a new bride raised in the era need to be lectured post-wedding on the demeanour of a married woman?) However, none of this was enough to stop me loving Mette.
Becoming a spy/special agent for her princess, Mette induced some reader white knuckling and when she was violated, the image was incredibly real (emotionally, so not squeamishly). In fact when Catherine later received similar treatment I didn't feel half as much. I was enthralled by Catherine but as a historic figure rather than a real person. Perhaps showing us Catherine through Mette's eyes lessened that sense of personal engagement?
This is definitely Mette's story as she and her family vividly guide us around a world where the penniless royal court relies on kudos for the provision of necessities and a king who plays with ships in the bath. If you, like me, end up looking forward to more of Mette then your wish will be fulfilled. The Tudor Bride, Joanna Hickson's second Catherine book, is due out autumn 2013 with the promise of more archers, one being perhaps a little more special than the rest.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Agincourt Bride by Joanna Hickson at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Agincourt Bride by Joanna Hickson at Amazon.com.
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