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As silly as its original name
on 22 July 2013
I bought this book base on reviews I had read on Amazon and now wonder if the readers who gave it glowing reviews read the same book I did. I am obviously in the minority here, but I found the book unbearably silly. After buying the book, I discovered that the original title of the book was 'Sweet Passion's Pain' (a phrase which is annoyingly used every so often in the book!). Had I known that, I would not have bought it - the book was as silly as that title. One of the biggest problems I had with the book was the portrayal of Joan itself. The real Joan was undoubtedly a fascinating woman. She was the first cousin of Edward III (making her Edward, the Black Prince's aunt, and two years older than him). She came to court and at the age of 12, secretly married Thomas Holland. He then went on crusade and she, in the meantime, was married off to the Earl of Salisbury. When Thomas came back, he petitioned the Pope, who annulled her second marriage. She then lived happily with Thomas Holland for many years and bore him 5 children. When he died, she married the Black Prince and bore him two sons. When her young son became king at the age of 10, she became the de facto power behind the throne.
In the book, however, she comes across as silly, immature, misguided, delusional and changeable. The author gives her the cliched 'headstrong, impulsive' character so loved by sappy romance writers, but for me it just didn't work. In fact, everytime she appeared on the page, I wanted to smack her. I couldn't understand Joan's personality or way of thinking at all (I don't think she had one in the book, to be honest). The ludicrous 'revenge' plot was so ridiculously contrived that I actually laughed at places. She is happy to sleep with the Black Prince on occasion, but when she is actually free to be with him (something she has pined for through all 600 excrutiating pages), suddenly feels she cannot do so. All in the interest of setting up another cliched 'romantic twist'.
Another issue is how the author has liberally rewritten facts to fit into her vision of a romance novel. The first meeting of the two is a case in point. Joan sees the Black Prince at jousting practice and is (naturally!) overcome by his manliness, his strength, his power etc etc (you know the rest!). Considering that she would have been about 11 or 12 at the time and he 2 years younger than her, it's all rather creepy. The author has essentially reduced a fascinating period of history into random encounters between her two chief protagonists complete with heaving bosoms, unlikely sexual encounters and trite exchanges with the Black Prince overpowering the 'trembling with fury and passion' Joan, whilst spending a page or two in between on the major events of the time, like the various wars with the French, the Black Plague, court politics etc. I understand that historical fiction is 'fiction' and that one has to interpret or invent certain facts to tell an interesting story, but if a book claims to be a true story, it should at least try and stick to the known facts.
The match between the Black Prince and Joan was, historically, a love match, but I doubt it was this long drawn out, contrived battle of the sexes with liberal dashes of revenge, forced marriages and pining separations. The Black Prince had several mistresses before he married her, and Joan obviously loved her first husband enough to be asked to be buried next to him and not next to the Black Prince when she died, even though the Black Prince had built her a tomb next to his own. It is OK to love more than one man, after all, and to remarry once your husband has pased away!
Frankly, the only reason I managed to finished the book was because the few portions not relating to Joan and her inexplicable thought processes and actions, i.e. those relating to the actual history of the time, were somewhat interesting. This book and its subject matter had so much potential, and i was so looking forward to it, that it was really disappointing to find nothing better than a run of the mill romance novel in a medieval setting with hints of fact. if you like sappy, cliched, predictable romances novels, then give this a go, but if you enjoy intelligent historical fiction then save your money and buy something worthwhile.