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The King's Concubine is set during reign of Edward III, and describes his relationship with his wife, Philippa of Hainault, and his mistress, Alice Perrers. Little is truly known about the life of Alice Perrers, and yet Anne O'Brien has woven a skilful and believable story about how, in the mid 1360's, young Alice became one of the Queen's waiting women. The way in which Alice colluded with Queen Philippa in order to begin a sexual relationship with the King, is described in a compassionate and romantic manner. The story quickly evolves into a sympathetic and warm account of an aging king and his love affair, not just with his astute young mistress, but also with his wife, and courtiers. The medieval court is beautifully described and is perfectly placed within the context of the story.
There is much debate about Alice Perrers, and the influence she had on the aging King, she is often depicted as an avaricious, scheming harpy, or as a femme fatale, but in The King's Concubine, Anne O'Brien has given a lighter and possibly more sympathetic view of this charismatic medieval mistress.
I enjoyed this version of Alice's early life, and would definitely recommend this book to my friends who enjoy historical fiction by Philippa Gregory, Vanora Bennett and Emma Campion
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VINE VOICEon 26 April 2012
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If you don't mind if a good story plays around with the facts and you like romantic historical fiction then you will not be disappointed! This is top class stuff, full of contemporary detail of the life, clothes, palaces etc of the English Court. I read this in two evenings! The added bonus of this story is that she makes the King, the Queen and the Concubine all very believable and likable in their menage a trois - tricky thing to pull off I think. I think I might go far as to say that I prefer Anne O Brien to Phillippa Gregory!!!!! Don't tell anyone
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book started out as a 'oh, go on then' book - there wasn't too much of a selection left on amazon vine. I intended to skim-read it, as this kind of novel isn't my favourite genre, but I found myself utterly drawn into it from the very beginning, from young, innocent Alice Perrer's convent days. So much so, that I had to read up on her, and on Philippa of Hainault, as both were portrayed as strong women at a time that men had all the power.

The author seems to have very skilfully blended fact with fiction, filling in blanks where history seems to be lacking, and in a very clever, empathetic way, where both women are concerned. I wondered if she especially wanted to make both women powerful in a 'woman behind the man' way.

I found myself intrigued by the author's plot in that it was PoH who made AP the king's mistress, and how willing AP was to serve both king and queen. AP herself came across as a strange blend of strength, innocence, cunning, self-preservation, with a thirst for knowledge and a power of her own - and that was from the age of 16 onwards, which kind of didn't seemed realistic. I do wonder how accurate this could be, given woman's subservience to man at that time, but the author did manage to make (the vilified, according to history) AP out to be...oddly likeable and with a sense of honour and loyalty/duty. I would have hated it if she had been a puppet, easily manipulated and used, but when I tried to find out about her, the author's portrayal seemed totally at odds with historical facts.

Edward himself seemed a strange blend of loving husband, loving lover, yet weakened at the loss of his wife, then further so at the loss of his son, and additionally at what he deemed AP's betrayal. He was also portrayed as being unable to make decisions very well, which I did find very surprising, given the issues with France of the time, which would have required a strong leader...

So, how historically accurate is this novel? Probably not very, from what I read, and realistically, would a queen have been as self-effacing and unselfish as PoH? Probably not, especially in regards inheritance and power, but the tale itself was very well-written, very engaging - I read every page, despite not loving the genre, and despite not liking novels told in the first person. The author is certainly talented with words, and with imbuing feelings and emotions into what could have simply been a tale of 'characters in history long gone'. This was an excellent read that totally drew me in. But, it was first and foremost made out to be a love-story, of different types of love between connected characters. So, if you want it for that alone, whilst it's not all passion, highs and lows (I can't see how various reviewers have described it as a 'romp'), it is a solid read - but perhaps not that historically accurate.
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VINE VOICEon 2 September 2012
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This is the second novel by Anne O'Brien that I have read recently, and I have enjoyed them both. Although both novels were written in the first person, a narrative technique that I usually don't like as it is difficult for authors to pull off, I have found O'Brien's writing convincing and applaud her for this.

The protagonist of this particular novel is Alice Perrers, best known as mistress to Edward III. Not an awful lot, it seems, is really known about Alice, at least before her time at court. O'Brien has used known facts and woven her story about these, filling in the gaps with imagination and probability. Historically, Alice Perrers has never come across as a particularly nice person, seeming to be greedy, grasping and manipulative. O'Brien doesn't do a total whitewash job on her, but she does give a more sympathetic portrayal. Her Alice is still keen to acquire land holdings, but seen as a woman who has come from practically nothing and can see what her future might be without royal patronage, it is difficult to really blame her. History has always tended to be written by the victors and by men, and in medieval times they would not have liked a woman stepping out of her 'place' so it is quite understandable that Alice Perrers should have been so vilified.

Overall, I thought this was a good read. I read Vannora Bennett's The People's Queen a while back, which is also about Alice Perrers (she seems to be enjoying something of a renaissance!) but I preferred O'Brien's book. The cover gives O'Brien a plaudit of being 'better than Philippa Gregory'. Well, I can't argue with that as I haven't cared much for either of the books by Gregory that I have read, so I will wholeheartedly agree that O'Brien is much more worth reading! I look forward to her book on Eleanor of Aquitaine.
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Historical fiction is not my normal reading material, but I did thoroughly enjoy The King's Concubine. Little is known of Alice Perrers, but the author takes what is known and weaves a clever story embellishing these facts with what she surmises may have happened. For example it is known that Alice was a prodigious acquirer of property and at one stage owned 56 manors around London! In the book her initial education in property rights is explored and we appreciate her growing interest and motivation as she equates ownership with personal security. It becomes a major driving force in her life.

Alice, who narrates the story, is an unlikely heroine. Not blessed with good looks or good breeding, she is living in a nunnery as a newly widowed wife following a passionless marriage to an elderly merchant. Philippa of Hainault, is ill and near the end of her life and despite the fact that they are still devoted to each other, is unable to fulfil the physical needs of her husband, King Edward. Rather cynically she chooses Alice and brings her to Havering Palace, and, although Alice does not know what she has in mind, this becomes obvious in time. Clearly despite Alice's limitations, she is a clever and resourceful girl and has something about her which appeals to both Philippa and Edward.

Alice becomes deeply devoted to Edward, but is very aware that her status, particularly after the death of Philippa, is the subject of resentment in the court. It is clear to her that when she is alone, as is inevitable in time given the age difference between her and Edward, there will be little to protect her from her enemies. Unfortunately, although intelligent, her political sensibilities are not well developed and she often says or does things which do not help her much or make her any friends.

I thought the earlier part of the book was excellent, but perhaps it slowed in the middle when the politics of the time were considered in some detail. However, towards the end Alice is under attack from various factions and the pace picks up again. I found this story quite absorbing, and whilst it would be a mistake to equate this sort of fiction with historical fact, it is certainly a highly entertaining tale.
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VINE VOICEon 9 March 2012
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Told in the first person, this novel is based on the life and times of Alice Perrers, mistress of Edward 111. Alice has been the main character of books by Emma Campion, Anya Seton and others but her story is always worth retelling.

The book opens in promising fashion and progresses at speed until Alice is ensconced in the Royal bed-chamber and then I thought things lagged a little. The middle of the book sags and dawdles but picks up pace again once the Court enemies emerge to have Alice banished from their midst. The prose is easy to read and sounds very balanced when read aloud, which is not usual with modern novels. The dialogue is reasonable although the stream-of-consciousness technique is over-done for my taste.

I did not feel any sense of the fourteenth century in the writing nor in the descriptive narrative; the book has a very contemporary feel, which some people might enjoy. Ms O'Brien does not conjure (for me) the mores of the times and but for the very brief descriptions of Court dress, the scene could be in our modern England. The main characters - Alice, Edward, Queen Philippa and Sir William Windsor - are presented in good detail but many of the supporting cast don't quite come off the page. Some of the writing about the King in his failing years reads as if Ms O'Brien has observed the ageing process but not necessarily had empathy with it. But on the whole it is a competent and entertaining novel. If you enjoy historical romance, you have a good chance with this book.
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VINE VOICEon 8 March 2012
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I'm instantly put off by any author who uses the word 'myriad', especially on the first page, which was a pity, since Alice Perrers is not a woman who has been much written about and I wanted to learn something of her story, albeit in fictional form, since my house backs on to one of the extensive manors that her lover, Edward III, gave to her.

O'Brien soon redeems herself, though. The novel progresses very readably -- and at breakneck speed -- as we see the orphaned Alice raised by nuns, shoved out of the convent at the age of 15 to be a maidservant in London and promptly married by her elderly but impotent boss, Janyn Perrers, a moneylender. Alice, who tells her own story in the first person, comments frequently on her own lack of beauty which piques the reader's interest into how Edward comes to take her as his mistress. Her convent upbringing means that she's one of the tiny percentage of women in the 14th century who can read and write and her new husband soon shows her the rudiments of arithmetic and accounting.

Janyn Perrers gives Alice some money and she entrusts it to his clerk to buy property for her in the City. With Perrers dead of the plague, she's turned out by his sister but manages to conceal the deeds to an estate in Essex as she leaves, to add to her portfolio. Returning to the nunnery as a lay sister, she waits for a chance of a better life, which comes when the ailing Queen Philippa visits and takes an interest in her. Summoned to Philippa's court, she leaves the nunnery for a second time and soon finds herself propelled into the king's bed by his ailing wife who wants a royal mistress she can trust.

Perrer's origins are obscure and the fiction that O'Brien weaves to take her to the lofty position of lady in waiting to the queen from very humble beginnings is not perhaps all that plausible, but this is a wonderfully readable story with an enjoyably outspoken heroine.

Alice was vilified in her own day as a greedy, grasping social climber who exploited the king's weakness in his declining years and history has not been much kinder to her. O'Brien paints a very different picture -- a feminist picture of a woman who was determined to be her own mistress as well as the king's. The cover, however, which shows a photo of some 21st-century woman clearly about to go 'clubbing', is risible and gives a very poor and misleading impression, which costs it its fifth star and will probably cost it readers.
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Anne O'Brien has written an informative book with a good historical story line.

No doubt with the televisons adaptation of Hillay mantell's Wolf Hall a Minor Tudor revival will take place in people wanting another 'Tudor Fix'.

If this is the case this book will do nicely until the newxt one comes around.

But make no mistake this is Tudor Lite in that the story is lightweight.
O'Brien has obviously protrayed Alice Perrers as a compasionate and caring woman.

I had not realised that she would be so young when she first meets Edward.

This book reflects the times when women were seen as mere chattles of men to do with what and when ever they wanted.
A woman when married was a posession of her husband.

Will of Windsor sounds too good to be true, marrying Alice then allowing her to look after the king..
But then the aristocracy have always done that..
We only have to see what Edward the Seventh 'Bertie with Lillie Langtree and co and his Grandson Edward the Eighth who thought Married Women were fair game, got up to to see that times have not changed that much.

The King is still a mighty top trump when it comes to the bed chamber!

Will was certainly a knight in shining armour to allow the king to have nights in shining armour with her!

I felt a family tree of Alice's would have been of interest and I certainly went and googled Alice after I read this very satisfying book.

I would encourage you to do the same..... but after you have read this book!
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VINE VOICEon 28 February 2012
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I enjoyed this one, especially because of its unusual protagonist; having Alice Perrers, the king's mistress, as the voice of the novel gave it an added spice. Alice is often much maligned in history; after all, she was a commoner who rose to extraordinary power and amassed a fortune, acquiring numerous manors and estates. Even worse, she is sometimes thought to have manipulated a senile old king and to have used him to line her own pockets. Perhaps, she did indeed do this; it is unlikely that we will ever know for certain. However, having a novel from her perspective gives us another view of this women, and we understand some of the motivations behind her behaviour. This is not to say that Alice is a perfect angel in the novel; she certainly has her rough edges and, like most humans, is a mix of good and bad characteristics. I like this as it makes her more believable and realistic.

I enjoy O'Brien's historical novels (if you have not read it yet, give 'Devil's Consort' a go) - her writing style makes it all come alive and draws the reader easily into the story. I am sure she probably takes some liberties with the characters and the history; obviously any author who puts dialogue into her historical character's mouths is taking liberties as we cannot know what they actually said However, the essence of the tale is correct and more importantly, O'Brien creates the atmosphere and feel of the period, and this is what makes the novel engrossing. If you like Phillipa Gregory, you will probably enjoy this novel too, although Gregory pays more attention to the historical details. However, the overall effect is the same and if you like the one, you will probably enjoy the other.
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I thoroughly enjoy Anne O'Brien's books, and 'The Kings Concubine' totally lived up to my expectations!! It's the story of Alice Perrers, a commoner who became the mistress of King Edward III, making her own vast fortune along the way! As a baby, Alice was abandoned on the porch steps of an abbey, and was taken in by the nuns. Alice however, was not cut out to be a nun, and was a great trial to the devout sisters. So much so, that she was packed off to London, aged 15, to become the wife of Janyn Perrers, a moneylender. He shared his home with his dominant sister, who made it quite clear to Alice that she was not welcome. Janyn, though elderly, was kind to Alice in his way, and had no wish to consummate the marriage, preferring a platonic relationship, which suited Alice. After Janyn's death from plague, Alice had no option but to return to the abbey. She was of course, upset that she had to go back, but was filled with determination and ambition to make something of herself. In this version of events, she was 'recruited' to the position of King's mistress by none other than the Queen herself, Philippa of Hainault. Philippa was ill, and unable to fulfill her 'wifely duties' and so looked around her for a person that she could 'trust' to take her place in the King's bed. Her gaze fell upon Alice, after a chance encounter at the abbey where she had gone to pray. Alice found herself at the Court, having first been sent to the kitchens, and then becoming one of the Queen's ladies, or damsels as they were known. From here, the only way for Alice was up!! Of course, there is ALWAYS a price to pay, and Alice knew that some day, she would be called upon to pay that price - but she always had an eye to the main chance, and decided to take what she could from her 'relationship' with the King.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it was, as usual, extremely well written, the characters were believable to me, and the story, whilst being one that I know, held my interest and kept me captivated. Recommended.
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