July 1st, 2010

the red queen.

Review: The Queen's Lover by Vanora Bennett

The Queen’s Lover (Blood Royal in the UK)

by Vanora Bennett


The second-youngest child of Charles VI and his queen Isabeau, Catherine de Valois is largely ignored in favor of her older brothers.  Her father has bouts of insanity, which decimate his ability to rule and leaves Isabeau in power.  The Queen is a mercurial, childish ruler with insatiable appetites, and rumors abound about her misconduct behind her husband’s back.  It is to these two rulers that the English come to negotiate a marriage between their King and one of Valois daughters.  A Welsh page in that delegation, Owain Tudor, falls madly in love with Catherine from the first moment he sees her, and she soon returns his feelings, but their love is destined to be put aside by Catherine’s political duty.  She journeys to England as the queen of Henry V, but within two years she is widowed in a country where she can barely speak the language.  Her every move is monitored by the English lords and any wrong move will result in her son being taken away.  At twenty-one Catherine is a has-been, but in time she will overcome all challenges and eventually mother one of England’s most powerful dynasties.


This is the first book I’ve read with Catherine de Valois as the star, and at nearly six hundred pages it’s a pretty hefty read.  In a rather unusual twist for a historical romance, Bennett does *not* make her protagonist a spirited and independent young Queen.  Catherine is the sort of queen who wrings her hands and worries, but doesn’t take an especially active role in ruling.  This works because it’s very thoroughly explained how she came to be a rather weak woman; her childhood was full of quarreling and intrigues, and Catherine is willing to sacrifice much to maintain order.  She’s also a refined French woman trying to get by in England’s rough, male-dominated court.  The ceremony and pomp she is used to simply is not part of the English culture.   Late in the book, Joan of Arc makes her appearance and fulfills her doomed destiny.  Her determination and sincere belief that she fulfills God’s will by fighting for Charles VII, the enemy of England, makes Catherine question whether her royal blood is truly pure for the first time in her life.  Catherine’s opposite in many ways, the warrior girl from the peasant class becomes the catalyst that forces the Queen to take charge of her own life. 


It’s not quite what I expected from a book titled The Queen’s Lover, since the narrative is heavy on descriptions and dialogue, less so on steamy romance and sex.  The UK title of the book, Blood Royal, suits it much better since the issue of royal blood being diluted through intermarriage with common folk and whether royal blood is divinely blessed strongly influences the actions of the Valois family.


I don’t actually know much about pre-Tudor England, so as a historic critic I don’t really know what part of the story is documented fact and what events Bennett made up.  There are no author notes or bibliography to elucidate this.    


3.5 out of 5 stars



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