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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 January 2013
Catherine of Valois is one of the most intriguing of medieval queens. Largely drawing on knowledge gleaned from Shakespeare's Henry V, Catherine was an important (although not necessarily the most important) component of the peace settlement between France and England after the English victory at Agincourt in 1415 which left much of the French nobility dead on the field. How would a young girl deal with being married off to a king that had brought her country to its knees, effectively robbing her own brother of his royal inheritance? In The Agincourt Bride, Joanna Hickson takes just such a look and reveals a far more complicated and remarkable, even shocking, story, brought to life with a prose that is so light and full of feeling that it almost dances across the page.

At the heart of the novel is Catherine and her wetnurse Mette. Recently delivered of a stillborn son while still a child herself, Mette had been removed from her home and placed in the royal household as wet nurse to baby Catherine, the tenth child of a mad king and a proud, bitter queen. Neglected and almost forgotten, Catherine grows to love her surrogate mother Mette to the extent that she can never be without her again, however much the queen and her agents seek to keep them apart. For as soon as the princess is of an age to be useful she becomes a pawn, caught in the petty wars between members of the House of Valois, dividing Catherine from her brothers and sisters, and placing her in the utmost danger, not least at the hands of John the Fearless, the Duke of Burgundy and a monster. No wonder, then, that the often promised but frequently withdrawn hope of a marriage to Henry V offers the tantalising chance of an escape to the brave, loyal and vulnerable Catherine. There is only so much that a nursemaid can do to protect her charge.

The great success of The Agincourt Bride is the extent to which Joanna Hickson makes the reader care about the characters of the young princess and Mette. But also not just these two. Catherine's brothers and sisters might not be always sympathetic but they are clearly the victims of their mother and her dubious alliances. As a nurse, Mette has her ways of calming the stresses of Catherine's siblings in ways unique to each individual. She has extraordinary empathy and, despite the suffering that she herself must endure, her love for Catherine remains paramount. Then there is mad king Charles. It is impossible not to feel for a man who believes that he is made of glass and could shatter at the slightest touch.

The novel takes us on a tour of France's royal castles and convents. It is a largely female world, with its confined inhabitants occasionally granted exciting glimpses of lethal jousts, receiving messengers with news of battles or advancing armies. They are at the mercy of events and have to deal with it through fortitude and wit. We watch as Catherine grows skilful at fencing verbally with her mother and the Duke of Burgundy.

There is little chivalry in this world despite its pretensions but the courtship of Henry V and Catherine is wonderful to read. So much is at stake and it's important to remember how young Catherine is. It is a dance regulated by the most stringent of rules and executed with the most graceful of movements. Beneath the surface, though, there is death on the battlefield, violence to women and deceit. The courtly games of the feast or bedchamber have their counterpart in the violent, terrifying streets of Paris and the secret staircases and passages of cold, bare castles.

I loved The Agincourt Bride! It is beautifully written with such a lightness and humanity about it. It is so easy to read and a pleasure from start to finish. It is also genuinely shocking. Men had the battle of Agincourt but the women here have equal dangers to face. Henry V is one of my favourite figures from history and Joanna Hickson brings him alive for me. Catherine was less familiar but it was a pleasure to get to know her and Mette. This is historical fiction at its best and I've had a wonderful two days in its company. I look forward to its follow up, The Tudor Bride. I am grateful for the review copy.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 26 January 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is an account of the early life of Catherine de Valois, wife - if rather briefly - of Henry V, the warrior Lancastrian king who won back much of Edward III's empire in France. The story is told by the woman who was her wet nurse and became her Mistress of the Wardrobe when she grew up, Guillaumette or Mette for short.

The tales of Catherine's very early life are intertwined with those of the other royal children, but particularly her youngest brother Charles, who by various twists of fate becomes the Dauphin despite being the fourth son born to the House of Valois. It is quite hard to believe that any royal children would be treated in the way that the author catalogues Catherine's upbringing, even if born to a woman as careless as she would have us believe Queen Isabeau was.

We hear very little of Catherine subsequently, in the years she spent at the Convent at Poissy, but she reappears as a girl aged 13 to be used as a pawn in order to seal a peace treaty with England. The remainder of the book traces the following period of about six years, finally leading up to her marriage and arrival in England for her coronation. And there it ends, quite abruptly, in 1421.

Joanna Hickson draws her characters convincingly and the reader warms to Mette, the narrator, as a sensible, kind hearted and loyal substitute mother for the young Catherine. The mad king of France is also well drawn which helps us to understand how the country was overrun by the English with such a leader. However, the novel feels over drawn out in the years between Agincourt and Catherine's marriage and at times does verge on the tedious. The Duke of Burgundy is portrayed as `the devil' but it is rather unbelievable that in fifteenth century France, even given his powerful position in the war torn French kingdom, he could or would have treated a daughter of the House of Valois and the future bride of the English king, in the way suggested here.

I feel this book suffers from the author's clear intention to create two books out of the life of Catherine de Valois, when possibly one might have made more dynamic and focused reading.
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VINE VOICEon 20 November 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I really enjoyed this book. It is the story of Catherine of Valois from her birth until her marriage to Henry V. I had read nothing of Catherine's early life and nor had I read of French politics at that time. The story is told through the eyes of Mette who was Catherine's nursemaid from birth. The life of the French both royal and common at that time is well and vividly described sometimes a bit too graphically. It is difficult to separate fact from fiction as the tale is told seamlessly. It is compellingly told and gripped me from page 1. I really had to finish it but yet there was much to feel sad about. Perhaps it helps to explain Catherine's behaviour in her marriage. If I have any criticism it was that I found French politics a little confusing at times but I think it was a very chaotic time. As a debut novel I cannot praise the author highly enough and look forward to reading further works from her
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book engaged me from the first page - and l could not wait to pick it up and continue
reading. If like me you are a fan of Phillipa Gregory then you will absolutely adore this.

Fate plays a big part in the life of Mette who by pure chance becomes a wet nurse to a new
born princess after the still birth of her own baby boy. The baby princess is Catherine
whose father is a mad king and her mother is a very bitter and proud queen. As the tenth
child of the marriage Catherine is forgotten and neglected by her parents and Mette becomes
so indespensable to Catherine that she refuses to be parted from her no matter how hard
outside forces conspire to keep them apart.

Without giving away to much of the plot this is a beautifully written book with such
an abrupt ending I cannot wait for the sequel.

Historical fiction at its best - read and enjoy.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Catherine de Valois was the wife of Henry V of England. The Agincourt Bride is a fictional account of her life as seen through the eyes of her nurse, Mette. I didn't take too much of the history to heart. These novels are always a mix of historical fact and fiction and it's usually best to approach them with an open mind and just enjoy the read. Having said that, I thought Joanna Hickson made a good job of bringing the era to life. She sets the scene well and her characters are believable and robust. War is obviously central to the background of the novel, 100 year war/Agincourt, and there are some strong depictions of it's impact on the populations of England and France. Plenty of political intrigue and social unrest to keep you hooked and I particularly enjoyed the changing face of the monarchy. King's and Prince's die one after another which adds a lot of uncertainty and depth to the plot. There's the usual 'unwanted male attentions' and bodice ripping as the fate of both Catherine and Mette lies uncertain.

It's safe to say both women suffer at the hands of unscrupulous men who use them to their own advantage but; why rape? Why so graphic? The novel could so easily have lived without it. Just the mention of the act would have been enough without the detail. Didn't enjoy that element at all as it wasn't necessary. I've downgraded my review to 3* instead of 4*. An author is really struggling to keep a plot tense and exciting when they have to reach out for such a gratuitous act to keep the reader hooked.
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VINE VOICEon 18 December 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I do enjoy a historical novel, even when not of the highest literary quality. I'd read a little about the early life of Catherine de Valois -- the poverty-stricken upbringing of a royal princess whose father was mentally ill and whose mother was indifferent, all played out against the background of civil war and English invasion -- and looked forward to learning more.

Hickson uses the device of a narrator who stands slightly apart from the action. Mette, the daughter of a Parisian baker, is delivered of a stillborn child just as France's notorious queen, Isabeau of Bavaria, gives birth to a healthy girl, her ninth child. Barely risen from the delivery, Mette is whisked to the palace to act as wet nurse to the Princess Catherine. Soon she adores the baby and, even when she has a daughter of her own a year later, Catherine still holds first place in her affections.

As the 100-years war rages around them, Mette and her charge are subject to the whims of the royalty and nobility about them. As the Duke of Burgundy takes charge of the royal children, Mette returns home, not to see her beloved Catherine again for more than ten years. As France reels from Agincourt and the death of so many noble families, with Mette's own husband missing in action, the dauphin dies, as does his next brother, leaving the churlish Charles heir to the throne.

One night, as the Burgundians retake the palace, Mette helps Charles to escape but suffers an unpleasantly graphic rape in the process. Catherine herself is subjected to the unwanted sexual attentions of the loathsome Duke of Burgundy. As the months go by, Catherine's fate is undetermined as the prospect of her marrying King Henry of England rears its head, only to die away again. Dear Shakespeare seems to have been misinformed when he shows Henry hastening from Agincourt to claim his bride! It takes five years.

Letters supposedly written by Catherine to her brother, the Dauphin, but never sent, do not add anything to the narrative and I don't know why the author has included them. They would serve a purpose if they gave us a different voice from Mette's, a different view of events, but they do not, although they do provide the excuse for another gratuitous rape scene.

Apart from the rape scenes (yes, civil war is awful for women: I don't want to read the details), this is a thoroughly good read, if a bit of an `hysterical historical.' It ends as Catherine arrives in England, paving the way for a sequel.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I first became aware of Catherine de Valois as an historic figure through William Shakespeare's Henry V. She left quite a legacy in the fact that she was the daughter of King Charles VI of France and wife to Henry V of England. Catherine was also the mother of Henry VI of England, and through her secret marriage with Owen Tudor, the grandmother of Henry VII, establishing her as the Queen who founded the Tudor dynasty.

However, the story is not told through the eyes of Catherine de Valois, but told by her wet nurse turned Mistress of the Robes, Mette. It shows the life in a royal household in interesting detail. Joanna Hickson does an admirable job of describing the lives of the "real" people of those times too and not just the aristocracy.

Some of the events and tragedies that haunt Catherine are viewed through the maternal eye of Mette, but although I am no expert on the life of Catherine De Valois, some are probably "enlarged" for dramatic and artistic purposes. Mette almost seems to idolise Catherine and places her on a pedestal to a degree. Henry V only appears towards the end of the book, but his influence is felt at other times.

Hickson gives a good representation of Henry V and I cannot help but compare him to Shakespeare's legendary portrayal of Prince Hall and reformed Henry V, but also the real Henry of history. A good book, there is a sequel coming out and I shall most likely look into getting it depending on other's reviews...
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Hickson's début novel isn't bad.... but then it's not brilliant either. At nearly 600 pages long I felt it did drag a little at times and could have been tightened up without harming the story.

I'm not a big fan of first person narratives, but actually this wasn't so bad - the prologue where the narrator tells us her husband has recently taught her Latin does seem a little far fetched - it would have been better just not to say anything.

I have some grasp of the history of this period, but the mess at the French court makes English history look positively civilised! It did seem a bit hard to empathise with the French characters or even to be surprised by the whole outcome of Agincourt.

It's not so much a violent book in that we see battles first hand, but there are incidents of sexual violence, which can be just as disturbing. In one case, I'm not sure it was really necessary and in the other I did wonder if there was any historical foundation for that part of the story. I do like historical novels where the novelist adds an endnote to explain some of their reasoning and cite their favoured sources - I only had a proof copy, so maybe this is something that will be in the final copy? A good historical novel should whet the readers appetite to find out more, and a note from the author is always helpful in this respect.

As it is, we leave Catherine de Valois newly arrived on English soil... and of course the promise of a sequel from the author.
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VINE VOICEon 12 May 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Agincourt Bride tells the story of the fifteenth century French princess, Catherine of Valois, the wife of King Henry V of England. This book covers only the early part of Catherine's life, from her childhood until shortly after her marriage to Henry. The story will be continued in the sequel, The Tudor Bride.

This novel is narrated by Catherine's nursemaid, Guillaumette Dupain (known as Mette). Mette, the daughter of a baker, is brought to the royal household to act as wet nurse for the baby Catherine, having recently had a stillborn child of her own. With Catherine neglected and ignored by her parents, Mette becomes almost like a mother to the princess. They are separated during Catherine's years in the convent at Poissy but are reunited when Catherine is thirteen. Despite the attempts of others to part them again, Mette is devoted to Catherine and manages to stay with her, becoming her Mistress of the Wardrobe and her friend and confidante.

I expected this book to be at the lighter end of the historical fiction range but it turned out to be a bit too light for me. I also thought it was too long and I'm not sure there was really enough material for a book this length focusing on only the first years of Catherine's life. Mette's own personal story didn't interest me much; her main function in the novel is to provide the perspective of someone close to Catherine, and there have been so many historical fiction novels published in recent years narrated by a conveniently placed servant that I think it's becoming boring and formulaic. Seeing Catherine only through Mette's eyes, I couldn't engage with her fully and as a result I never really warmed to her.

I was intrigued by the storyline involving John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, who is portrayed here as a violent monster and I would be interested to know if there's any evidence that he really behaved like this. We also get to know Catherine's brothers and sisters, and while none of them are particularly endearing characters, I thought Mette, having known them all since they were children, displayed an amazing amount of patience and understanding with each of them. Their mother, Queen Isabeau, comes across as completely selfish and heartless, and their father, Charles VI, suffers from a mental illness that causes him to believe he is made of glass and will shatter if anyone touches him. I got a real feeling for the sadness and loneliness Catherine and her siblings may have experienced as children, and could also see how France had been left in a vulnerable position without strong leadership.

The Agincourt Bride ends as Catherine travels to England for her coronation. It's quite an abrupt ending, but presumably the next book is going to pick up the story from this point. I'm now trying to decide whether I enjoyed this one enough to want to read the sequel!
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The Agincourt Bride by Joanna Hickson for me was a wonderful read which brought me into the lives of Mette a wet nurse who tragically lost her first born but this vocation was only supposed to be short term but years later Mette was still loving Catherine and as she is brought once again back into the life of this beautiful Princess her vocation this time will be more than feeding this young princess whose beauty would incite wars but Mette soon realises Princess Catherine's enemies are close by and she will do everything in her power to protect her precious princess from harm.
Why I loved this book so much was the vivid writing, the author Joanne Hickson with each turn of the page I was brought back to the French Royal Courts of the fifteenth century and as the author laced historical facts with fiction she brought us a wonderful book narrated throughout by Mette though a commoner by all who looked down on her but for Catherine she was the mother she never had. As Mette seen danger from those who surround Catherine she sees how Catherine becomes someone who others want to control for those like her own brother the Dauphin to try and get his will especially to overcome the very dark and very evil Duke of Burgundy who makes himself known first of all when Catherine was a baby but he will soon realise what power Catherine holds within her hands and that power will only incite both men to control Catherine for their own power struggle. As we follow Mette's narration of how she seen history taking place within a household like no other, though as a reader we have to ask if Mette is looking after Catherine and protecting her from harm who is looking after Mette's own safety as a lowly commoner how will she overturn men like those who sought harm on Catherine's own head and the power she has over the land she calls her own? This book was more than historical fiction it was for me full of espionage and danger with every turn of the head as those within the palace cared for no-one other than their own lives as it clearly as a case of 'Me, myself and I' in each character who lived and survived through this time in history.

I highly recommend The Tudor Bride as one vivid and enthralling read which for me had everything a good book needs and so much more mainly a brilliant story which drew me in and would not let me go until the last page was reached. But the author used historical figures and gives them a body and soul who had me caring for them in so many ways especially the very loving Mette. This is actually the first book in a short series and I know there will be the second book in October titled The Tudor Bridewhich personally I am so looking forward to as I cannot wait until I find out what will become of the beautiful Catherine through the very vivid eye of Joanne Hickson who clearly has a terrific talent of bringing the past to life to all those readers like myself who love historical fiction.
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