The King’s Mistress by Emma Campion – Book Review

The King’s Mistress by Emma Campion

Alice knows she is lucky when she is lucky when her father chooses Janyn Perrers for her to wed. Although he is a good deal older than she is, she finds he attractive and he has never been anything but gentle and kind towards her. For awhile, they have a lovely, happy life together, until it becomes clear that he and his family have a dangerous secret involving the Dowager Queen Isabella. When Isabella passes away, Alice ends up under the protection of King Edward III and Queen Philippa, only to become Edward’s long-time mistress, reviled by much of the country.

First of all, let me just do a little cheer that “The King’s Mistress” is English historical fiction that is not about the Tudors, the War of the Roses, or Eleanor of Aquitaine. Hooray! Originality!

Alice Perrers is a fascinating woman, and I am glad that Campion decided to take her on as a subject for this novel. A merchant’s daughter, she neither wanted nor expected to spend any time with the royal family, only to end up as a royal mistress and mother to three of the king’s children. Of course, the higher someone is raised, the more enmity they attract (Tudor fans, think Wolsey and Cromwell). Indeed, Alice ends up vilified by many of those around her, accused of taking advantage of the aging king in his growing senility during their final years together.

Although the beginning was a bit slow, I thought that Campion’s writing was quite good. I thought that, overall, she let Alice’s story unfold very well and very naturally. The only minor thing that annoyed me was Alice’s italicized musings at the beginning of each of the four sections. They all ended with “When had I a choice to be other than I was?” Yes, there was a certain degree to which Alice’s fate was really being decided for her by other people, but I disliked that strong current of helplessness from Alice in these sections, particularly because I found her to be a rather strong character in the book as a whole, working for what she felt was right or what she wanted whenever it was possibly in her somewhat powerless position.

Despite a couple of minor flaws, this was a great work of historical fiction, and I would highly recommend it to people looking for something other than the same old Tudor and War of the Roses historical novels.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

I read this book as part of a TLC Book Tour.  Check out some of the other tour hosts for more reviews.  Links go to the host’s site, not to their specific review.

Tuesday, July 6th:  Life in Review

Wednesday, July 7th:  Luxury Reading

Thursday, July 8th:  Life is a Patchwork Quilt

Friday, July 9th:  Hist-Fic Chick

Monday, July 12th:  The Tome Traveller

Tuesday, July 13th:  Novel Whore

Wednesday, July 14th:  Rundpinne

Thursday, July 15th:  Stiletto Storytime

Thursday, July 22nd:  Ask Miss A

Thursday, July 22nd:  The Book Faery Reviews

Monday, July 26th:  Chaotic Compendiums

Monday, July 26th:  The Feminist Review

Wednesday, July 28th:  Devourer of Books

Monday, August 2nd:  S. Krishna’s Books

Wednesday, August 4th:  Peeking Between the Pages

Friday, August 6th:  Historical-Fiction.com

Thursday, August 12th:  Enchanted by Josephine

* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

The Scarlet Contessa by Jeanne Kalogridis – Book Review

The Scarlet Contessa by Jeanne Kalogridis
Published by St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan

Daughter of the rakish Duke of Milan and daughter-in-law (yes, you read that right) of the Pope, Catherina Sforza was not your average 15th century woman. She loved where she wished, schemed for what she wanted, and fought to keep what was hers. She even matched wits and swords with the Borgias. That being said, Caterina Sforza is a strong, admirable woman, but is also perhaps not the most sympathetic character in fiction, particularly when she is younger. Which is why Kalogridis was wise to narrate her story through her (entirely fictional) lady-in-waiting Dea. Dea was actually a particularly compelling character in her own right: consumed with a need to understand the mystery behind and take revenge for her husband’s murder.

I was totally sucked into “The Scarlet Contessa.” I am just starting to read more about the Italian Renaissance, and it is absolutely fascinating. From what I learned in history classes in high school, I thought it was all artists and patrons, some scientific discovery, and maybe a little backlash against scientific discovery from the church. But, oh! the power struggles! And not only amongst the Dukes, Princes, and other leaders of the various cities, but between the secular leaders and the church, and within the church itself! Absolutely fascinating.

This is the second book by Kalogridis I read and reviewed. “The Scarlet Contessa” confirmed what I thought after reading “The Devil’s Queen,” that Kalogridis is a very skilled author. Her particular talent is taking characters who should be unsympathetic due to their actions and making the reader care about what happens to them. Not every author can do that, and many books have left me cold because I could not care less about the protagonist. Kalogridis, though, examines the complex motivations behind some very unsympathetic actions. Not to mention she is a great storyteller, one who knows how to captivate her audience.

Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound
.*
Amazon
.*

This review was done with a book received from Sarah at St. Martins.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

The Confessions of Catherine De Medici by C.W. Gortner – Book Review

The Confessions of Catherine De Medici by C.W. Gortner

Catherine de Medici’s early life was rocky. She was orphaned mere weeks after her birth, then at 8 was forcibly placed in a hostile convent when Medici power was overthrown in Florence. Finally, at 11, she was able to go live with her uncle, Pope Clement VII. Rome having recently been sacked by the troops of King Charles of Spain, Clement saw Catherine as an opportunity to cement an alliance with France by wedding her to Henry, second son of King Francois.

Unfortunately, Catherine and Henry didn’t exactly have a fairy tale marriage, since he was far more interested in his nursemaid-turned-mistress, Diane de Poitiers. Catherine’s early denigration at Henry’s neglectful hands require her to become politically savvy and crafty, a trait that will serve her well when she has to advise her son the King – or will it.

I’ve loved C.W. Gortner’s writing since his debut novel, “The Last Queen.” One of my favorite things about him is that he does not simply write the same story that is already dominating the shelves, but chooses amazingly strong and misunderstood women in history, women whose stories are still fresh to the reader. Catherine de Medici is no exception. A patron of Nostradamus, Catherine’s mythology includes a woman who practices dark magic and planned the massacre of France’s Huguenots in the St. Bartolomew’s Day Massacre.

Gortner’s Catherine knows what it is to be persecuted for who you are from the days when the Medicis were overthrown in Florence, and accordingly she actually has a good deal of sympathy for the plight of the Huguenots and advocates a measure of religious tolerance. When conflict between the Catholics and Protestants begins to threaten her familys reign, however, she is forced to take action.

A good half of “Confessions of Catherine de Medici” focused on the conflict between the Catholics and Huguenots, leading up to and following the St. Bartolomew’s Day Massacre. This could have perhaps been overkill, but Gortner made it work very well. I never felt that I’d been reading the same thing over and over, but he kept the story moving forward, even though it was progressing through one main source of conflict.

I highly recommend “The Confessions of Catherine de Medici,” and I can only hope that Gortner is hard at work on another book!

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound
.*
Amazon
.*

This review was done with a book received from the publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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