Review published on June 11, 2017.
O’Brien offers us the opportunity to visit the historical reign of King Edward III, through the eyes of Joan of Kent, someone noted for her beauty and sharp mind, but seldom written about, despite being such an interesting character.
Her father, the Earl of Kent, was put to death for his part in a treasonous plot. When Edward was crowned king, he pardoned the Earl, but commandeered most of his land in exchange for (the Earl’s wife) Lady Wake’s children being cared for by the Royal Household. Joan saw little of her detached mother, but was cherished by Queen Philippa.
Strong minded from an early age, Joan was meant to be betrothed to William Montague, but at the mere age of 12 fell for and secretly married one of the King’s Knight’s – Thomas Holland, ten years her senior. They kept the marriage a secret, made easier because Holland was required to go to battle for the king. Holland wanted to secure sufficient funds before he approached the king with the news. With Joan being a Plantagenet, so of strong royal blood, she was always intended to marry well. To marry a commoner begged the question of whether Holland had ambitions to gain land and power as opposed to truly being in love with Joan.
What transpired were three marriages (two clandestine and one bigamous) and lots of papal correspondence. Depicted as careful, subtle, manipulative and highly politic, this resourceful women made as many enemies as friends. Whether being a 14th century woman she was as powerful an influencer or more a pawn at the behest of more manipulative, powerful men is up for debate.
In this fictional account, she is likeable through her more vulnerable thoughts, although she is still tough on the exterior. Her rich relationships with the men she wedded, the trials and tribulations relating to war and health are captured in a most enthralling way. There is tension, cunning and plenty of plotting as were the times. Great for both, drama, romance and periodically the ultimate leveller regardless of status – death. In all, an exceptionally enjoyable read.
Sara Garland 5/4
The Shadow Queen by Anne O’Brien
HQ 9781848455078 hbk May 2017