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The Agincourt Bride
by Joanna Hickson
Mette’s first child is stillborn, and the grief threatens to overwhelm her. Her enterprising mother whisks her daughter to the palace, where Mette is hired to nurse the newest royal princess Catherine. Thus, a bond between a peasant woman and a princess of France is born, strengthening as the years pass and Mette watches over several young royal children in the nursery. As the King of France suffers fits of madness, the Duke of Burgandy and the Queen team up against the Dauphin for control of the country, with Catherine – sweet, virgin, marriageable Catherine – a pawn trapped between them, unable to trust anyone but her faithful nurse.
As the daughter of a baker, Mette’s entirely unused to the wealth and glamour of the French court, but no matter, for she rarely sees it. Instead she is shocked by the corruption that lets the nobles in charge of the childrens’ household pocket the money while feeding Catherine and her siblings little and letting them run about in ill-fitting, dirty clothes. Catherine takes the place of Mette’s first child in her heart, and even after Mette has had other children her affection for the princess is strong. But that class line always remains, and even as Catherine’s importance increases, raising Mette along with her, no one ever lets the baker’s daughter forget that she is not one of them. This outsider-insider position is perfect; free to move between the two worlds with Mette, the reader can get a clearer picture of events in France and England than most of the people in court.
Catherine is forced to endure much in her early years, and it shapes her into a cautious, politically savvy young woman. Although occasionally a sharp remark slips out of her quick tongue, she is generally a kind girl trying to protect her siblings from danger. When she is forced into a horrible, compromising position by a cruel man, it’s quite heartbreaking – and may be quite triggering for readers who were victims of abuse when they were Catherine’s age, so watch for that.
One thing that really surprised me in the narrative is that Catherine’s marriage to Henry V of England takes place about five years after the Battle of Agincourt. My only other real familiarity with this story is from Shakespeare’s play Henry V, and that play makes it seem like the marriage happens a few days, or at most weeks, after the famous battle. This made me wish that an author’s note had been included that talked a little more about the historical record versus the novel’s version of events. This feeling was amplified later in the book, as Catherine and Henry tried to settle into marriage despite being virtual strangers, because I kept wondering what was the novelist’s imaginations and what was pulled from old letters and diaries and other records.
The book ends as Catherine sails across the Channel to England to take her place as Henry’s queen, and her adventures will continue in The Tudor Bride, which will be published in the US in March 2015.
3.5 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2013: The Son of Neptune (Heroes of Olympus #2) by Rick Riordan
2012: Sailor Moon Vol. 6 by Naoko Takeuchi
2011: The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson #5) by Rick Riordan
2010: Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange
2009: Giveaway #11: The Virgin’s Daughters by Jeane Westin
2008: BBAW: Kiva.org Giveaway