Monday, 12 May 2014

The King's Concubine by Anne O'Brien

This book I read for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge - Renaissance books.

I read the summary of this book and thought it sounded interesting. It is rather early in the history of the
English kings and I do not know so much about this time. I did not like this book at all for about the first quarter of the book. Maybe because it was written in first person and sometimes this makes the narrator very self-righteous and I think this was the case here. Furthermore, it was very sweet, too sweet, everyone was soooo good! Alice Perrers, the narrator and the concubine, comes by lucky(?) circumstances to be the damsel to the queen. That is Queen Philippa of Hainault, married to Edward III. They love each other very much and have 12 (I think) children together. Now she is sick and can not come to his bed - or he to hers - maybe most likely in those days - so she chooses Alice to be his concubine. Edward does not want to betray his wife and reluctantly (!!) takes Alice to his bed. It might well have been like this, but the whole affair and they way it is described is toooo sweet.

However, one should not give up. In comes a dashing, humorous, calculating and charming man (at least Alice can not seem to get him out of her mind) in the body of Sir William Windsor, Governor to be of Ireland. Here somehow the book changes to become less sweet and leaving the very personal lives to dwell more in the political society of the time. To survive in a court in those days, you had to be tough and able to float with the never ending conspiracies going on, one way or the other. Everyone wanted to find a way to get advantages, know the right people and gain something for themselves. When O'Brien leaves the very private sphere the book becomes more exciting.

Alice Perrers came from nothing and became one of the most influential and powerful women of her time. She bore the king four children, two boys and two girls which he acknowledged. One does not know so much of her, she lived from 1348 - 1400 and not many written proofs of her life is available. She spent more or less twenty years with the king and also helped him with daily doings as he got older. He was around 40 years older than she. I will leave the story here for you to find out for yourself. It is getting more and more exciting and I find that the story also gives an idea how life worked in court circles in those days and how difficult it was, especially for a woman, to make an independent life. It seems she managed quite well.

As I mentioned, the book improves after the beginning and I found it hard to put down. If you check Anne O'Brien's web-site you can look at the other books she has written. She stays mainly around 13-14th centuries. One book is about Philippa of Hainault as she married Edward the III and other books are about people surrounding him. It should be interesting to see howAnne O'Brien manages to describe the same time frame from different people's point of view. She studied history and taught it as well, so should be able to visualise the times for us.  Looking forward to reading another book of hers.

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