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on 8 March 2013
Firstly I'd like to thank ED Public Relations for sending me this book to read and give an honest review. As I've said before, I don't often read historical fiction and Katherine de Valois was new to me but it sounded thoroughly intriguing and I was looking forward to getting started.

It began with a brief introduction to Katherine's childhood and, considering she was a princess, she seemed to be rather neglected. Once she had reached a suitable age her mother set about trying to persuade King Henry V to accept Katherine as his wife, at this point she was young and hopeful and wanted nothing more than to be a good wife but she seemed unaware of what was expected of her.

I found it fascinating to learn about Katherine and I felt a genuine warmth towards her which lasted throughout the book. As she adjusted to her new role as Queen her timid and sensitive demeanour worried me, she seemed to lack the power that a woman in her position needed but it was her strange detached marriage that ended up making her stronger. When King Henry V died I was keen to see how it would affect Katherine's strength and felt surprised by her reactions during the aftermath.

Edmund Beaufort arrived in a whirlwind and it was then that I saw a different Katherine altogether - he was wildly romantic and cheeky with it, he certainly brought out the fun side of Katherine and I enjoyed reading about their time together. Owen Tudor was gentle and respectful, his presence going unnoticed until a moment which made it impossible for Katherine not to notice him!

A tangled web of lies, deceit and scandal seemed to follow Katherine wherever she went, some of her decisions were impulsive and didn't serve her well but I was impressed when she stood firmly by her beliefs and fought passionately for them. The writing was beautifully clear and precise which made this a very easy book to read, I flew through the pages as I became more and more caught up in Katherine's life and the politics that had kept her prisoner.

The epilogue left me in tears - it was incredibly touching, as was Katherine's life in general, and I couldn't resist heading online to find out what had become of her family.

This was a romantic, fascinating and enjoyable read, I was utterly gripped by the words on its pages and would highly recommend it to others.
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Katherine de Valois is a young innocent girl to be wed to Henry V. Although Henry doesn't love her, Katherine believes that they can be happy together. However, it soon becomes apparent to her that the purpose of their marriage is that so Katherine can produce an heir that will unite both England and France. Henry leaves Katherine a widow at the age of twenty-one, making Katherine's hand in marriage worth a kingdom. As she catches the eye of both Edmund Beaufort and Owen Tudor, her enemies are circling...Will she find love? And who with? Will anyone try to stop her?

I really enjoyed this! I've not read a book by Anne O'Brien before but I will definitely be purchasing her other novels after finishing The Forbidden Queen!

The time period that Anne was writing about was wonderfully created and told in this story, for me the book came to life as I was reading it! The descriptions were so very vivid that I could picture every scene clearly in my mind, and I thoroughly enjoyed being transported back in time for many wonderful hours of reading.

I loved that this was written from Katherine's point of view, and it was quite beautifully written - I felt as though through the story, I understood her very well and by the time I had finished the book I felt I knew her as well as I would a friend. I loved Katherine's honesty in the way she told the reader what was happening, and I liked that she was able to tell her story to the readers, I enjoyed reading about her experiences.

The other characters were very well formed and portrayed. I especially liked Owen Tudor - I loved the interactions between him and Katherine and I always looked forward to the parts where they featured together.

The Forbidden Queen is rich with feeling, emotion and detail, and is both entertaining and absorbing all at once. Fans of historical fiction will love this, but I think that many readers will enjoy this fantastically told story. A brilliant novel.
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on 14 December 2013
The Forbidden Queen starts out in a very promising way. Poor little Katherine is a princess, yet destitute. Her mother, Isabeau of Bavaria, has resources but not the desire to raise her children. She is too caught up in her own selfish desires to concern herself with the dirty little girls scurrying around the castle. Katherine's father, Charles VI of France, is insane and may or may not remember who Katherine is when he does run into her. If they chance to interact and he believes that she is indeed his daughter, he makes an effort to provide for her, but his mind is too far gone for her to rely upon him.

This tragic picture of childhood is a far cry from the expected pampered royal upbringing that most princes and princesses of Katherine's day enjoyed. Once her mother realizes the state of her daughters, she removes them to a cold, stern convent to be educated and disciplined. Katherine grows up never learning what it is like to love or be loved. Her only comfort is her sister Michelle, who of course is lost to her upon her marriage.

When Katherine is married to the legendary Henry V, she envisions a new life of love and happiness. However, her husband is too distracted by his quest to rule over France in addition to England to spend much time wooing his young bride. She is in love nonetheless because he is all she has. At this point in the story, I could still feel sympathy for Katherine. I cared about what happened to her and felt sorry for the girl who wanted so much to give herself to someone and be truly loved in return. After Henry's death, the whole story fell apart.

Katherine is understandably crushed by her husband's death and the circumstances surrounding it, but she descends into depression, self-pity, and insipidness that she never (ever) seems to fully recover from. The rest of the book includes her relationships with Edmund Beaufort and Owen Tudor, who are about as two dimensional as characters can be. Meanwhile, Katherine is naïve, selfish, and has a little too much of her parents in her.

Edmund is the seducing rogue who everyone realizes is a bad boy except Katherine. Owen is the brooding, strong, quick-tempered, yet perfectly handsome and sensitive Welshman. Katherine spends so much time doubting herself, her relationships, and the motives of the King's council which rules her life. She makes, or attempts to make, several major decisions without consulting with whichever man she is deeply in love with at the time. She was just so unlikeable.

What I was really bothered by in this novel was the repetitiveness. Over and over, the reader was reminded: Henry only married Katherine to gain France, Edmund is sexy but it would be a horrible decision to sleep with him, Owen is a servant! My uncorrected proof copy of this book is 613 pages, while I see that Goodreads lists it as 464, so maybe much of this was edited out. I hope so. The other problem that I had was that we aren't told much of what is going on other than Katherine's inner thoughts, which are pretty much only about men. England is battling for the crown of France and all we know is that Owen has glossy black hair. It's just a little too fluffy for me. However, if you are more of a fan of romance than history, it may be just the book for you. I like a little more history in my historical fiction.
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on 13 December 2013
I hate to give a one star rating but as I gave up reading this half way through chapter six, because I was bored with it, I feel that I have to.
This is set in a fascinating period of history, but because it is written in Katherine's voice we hear little about history and a lot of does my husband love me or does he not, often in rather melodramatic language, such as this after hearing about Henry's death p201 "Duty! All was black. My sight, my mind."
Sometimes logic has to be suspended, for example at Katherine;s wedding feast she is supposed to hear her English ladies gossiping about her, English is not her first language, she is at the high table where her husband is having a discussion about the war and yet she picks up and perfectly understands this conversation between women, who would surely have been careful about being overheard.
It borrows heavily from other romantic fiction, sometimes rather too heavily p140 "I sat up, holding out my hands, palms up, in the age old gesture of supplication," compare this to the closing chapter of Gone With the Wind when Scarlett tries to stop Rhett leaving "She threw out her hands to him, palms up in the age old gesture of appeal." Margaret Mitchell had endowed Scaarlett with the psychological depth to carry off the melodrama, I found that Katherine was too light weight to do so.
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on 15 August 2013
"The Forbidden Queen (March 2013) presents Katherine de Valois, wife of England's hero King Henry V. A glorious story of political manipulation, intense passion and ultimate tragedy. What a pleasure it has been for me to develop their characters and allow these women to speak to us today." (Anne O Brian's website)

She is not the first author to wish to do this. Jean Plaidy and Anya Seyton - fabulously with Katherine Swynford (and Plantagenet Prince John of Gaunt). What does work well is seeing Katherine Valois' life through her own eyes and some of the historical context (such as restrictions on royal widows) coming alive because of that.

The first half of the book is definitely better - it's more plausible and seems to have more historical evidence behind it.
The second half (focusing on her relationship with commoner Owen Tudor) less so.

What IS interesting (and unsurprising) is that most of us have not heard of Katherine Valois -or indeed most of the women in that era including the currently famous white queen Elizabeth Woodville. What Anne O Brien and Philippa Gregory do well, I think, is allow us to glimpse into the world of women in different eras - particularly painting a role of strong women in a world of female pawn in the high stakes of court politics. That it has taken so long for us to hear of these women illustrates how patriarchal our society in Europe is/has been. While it is good to be able to read between the lines and imagine how life MIGHT HAVE BEEN for those women caught in the trappings of power, and tell their story, most of the narrative is speculative and illustrates how remaining pawns unless allied with powerful bishops princes and 'kingmakers' was the norm.

This book received good reviews including "Better than Philippa Gregory" (The Bookseller) and "Anne O Brien has joined the exclusive club of excellent historical novelists" (Sunday Express) Sadly I don't agree with either at least with regard to The Forbidden Queen ( I haven't read her other works). It was 'stodgy' in places, and lacked historical credibility. It was readable, but not a great read.

In the amazon kindle store there is another novel Queen by Candlelight which is doing the rounds but by a different author. It too focuses in on Katherine Valois - a woman until this week I knew nothing about. I haven't read that but I am wondering why Katherine Valois has suddenly become a historical figure of interest. Perhaps because of another wedding between a commoner of the same name and a member of the royal palace several centuries later?
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on 27 July 2013
I just didn't enjoy this book that much.

The main problem was, well, the main character. Katherine of Valois in this book came off as by nature rather melancholy and defeatist, more afraid than courageous. I just couldn't root for someone whose outlook on life was so bleak. When she faces problems with Owen Tudor, her solution is to give up and run away, reasoning that it would just be better for everyone. It's just so boring and dispiriting. It made me want to put the book down. And the book is written in first person present tense so we're with Katherine, inside her dismal thoughts, all the time. It really grated on me.

Another problem with the story being told in first person present tense and with us as readers sitting on Katherine's shoulder the entire time is that even though this period of history has plenty of action, being right in the thick of the Hundred Years War between England and France. Except we see none of that, because we're stuck in some backwater residence with miserable Katherine. To be fair, we get a few changes of scene in the first part of the book. Katherine's childhood in a religious institution was pretty interesting, and after she marries Henry V we get to trundle off on campaign and we meet a few intriguing characters. But after she's widowed the scope suddenly becomes massively restricted and my brain began switching off. The romance did nothing for me either, especially the grinding tirade of will-they-won't-they which seemed to go on far too long.

It's competently written, and obviously others have greatly enjoyed this book, but I just couldn't click with the characters at all, and that marred the whole book for me.
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on 4 April 2016
Queens vanish in history. Their names get blown out of the windows of the stately, yet draughty rooms of history books. As if once their duty of bearing children—sons!—has been performed they become surplus to history and historians. Katherine of Valois has similar fate, despite the fact that she’s the mother of Henry VI, who in his turn is one of the sides in the War of the Roses.

We’ve all read about Henry V and his legendary conquests in northern France. He had only one wife—Katherine of Valois—before dying at the age of 36. His wife gave him an heir, Henry VI, whom he also know from history books. Yet, until recently I’ve heard nothing of Katherine of Valois. But she’s one of the lucky ones. She’s caught the eye of a contemporary writer, Anne O’Brien, who’s taken to heart to restore Katherine’s life and achievements into the minds of 21st-century readers in her book The Forbidden Queen. There are a few medieval queens that never get mentioned at all.

The Forbidden Queen is written in first-person, from the perspective of Katherine. I found that to be rather claustrophobic at times. We follow her inner life as a neglected child and constrained, by religious upbringing, adolescence. We witness her hopes of love and intimacy as she becomes the young wife of Henry V and mourn with her as she turns into an ill-prepared Dowager Queen only a couple of years later.

Katherine knows very little of the real and political battles that are fought around her (or so we all told repeatedly) and as a result we get hardly any historical background story. Battles get mentioned sporadically. Battlefields, that Katherine is stationed by with her husband, only serve to signify how neglected by her husband is poor Katherine.

And there it is the main problem: “poor” Katherine. Throughout the book, her thoughts are predominantly self-pitying, melancholic, defeatist, and downright dismal.

Her wedding day is depicted through her overhearing some vile gossip about herself and her dropping a golden cup to the floor.

On her first night as a wife to the magnificent Henry V, right before she loses her virginity she has this to say to her husband: “I have nothing to wear to be guest of honour of a tournament.”

After the death of Henry, Katherine is ripe for the picking from ambitious men in the English court. Three men get prominent place in The Forbidden Queen: Henry’s brother Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester; Edmund Beaufort from one of the foremost families in the land’ Owen Tudor, Katherine’s household master.

Here too, we witness primarily Katherine’s doubts and insecurities on who should she choose. In my reader’s mind, the men in question remained ill-defined and unconvincing.

The real Katherine of Valois was born and raised in the lecherous and insane French court (her father was mad, her mother infamous for her “wanton lewdness”), then sent to a convent and traded off to Henry V for some peace in the Hundred Year War between France and England. She might not have had a lot of political swagger at the English court (although she was Dowager Queen and attempted to make some important political and personal decisions) but she dared to challenge the medieval bounds and (allegedly, papers have never been found) marry the man she loved. For a medieval woman and a young, widowed queen that must’ve taken courage. I didn’t see that in Anne O’Brien’s Katherine of Valois.

I feel that the inner life Anne O’Brien has inhibited her Katherine doesn’t do justice to the real Katherine. As it is, The Forbidden Queen is more a romance novel with historically named cast of characters, then historical fiction.

I’ve also found a few historical and time inaccuracies throughout the novel. The most notable one being the use of the phrase “in my good books” by Henry V. The phrase was first recorded in 1509, come 100 years after the events in The Forbidden Queen take place.

This is the first Anne O’Brien book I’ve read and, according to amazon readers, not her best. I’m unsure if I should give another of her books a chance. I’d be grateful for recommendations.
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VINE VOICEon 14 May 2013
I've enjoyed the Cousin's War series by Philippa Gregory, which brings to life an exciting and complex period in English history in the historical fiction format, and so decided to look at other authors in the genre.
As you can see I struggled a bit with this novel for a number of reasons. Firstly, not much is really known about Katharine de Valois, particularly after the death of Henry V, and this is really because she played little role in government and her historical significance lies in her children, Henry VI and those from her marriage to Owen Tudor which gave rise to the Tudor dynasty. The author therefore has to fill in a lot of blanks, and one might argue that Katharine's life just wasn't interesting enough to sustain a 600 page novel. Secondly, the novel focuses on her relationships as Dowager Queen with Edmund Beaufort and Owen Tudor, and does so in the manner of a very drawn out romance, whilst completely ignoring the war in France and the appearance of Joan of Arc, who isn't even mentioned! It's as though there is a lot of history going on in the background but all the reader is fed is speculative romance.
The story of the introduction of the law preventing Katherine remarrying without the Royal Council's permission is not told from the alternative viewpoint of the Duke of Gloucester, which might flesh out a greater understanding of the political issues and add greater interest. Many of the historical characters are two dimensional. I understand Owen Tudor was persecuted after her death, but the story ended before this.
In short, there was the opportunity to produce a novel of much greater interest and scope by fitting Katharine's life around the historical events of the times, but unfortunately this was missed, and we are left with what is little more than a speculative and insipid romance. However, the author did manage to convey the powerless position that even highly born women of the time occupied, and credit must be given for this. All in all, though, a wasted opportunity in my opinion.
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on 6 March 2013
Katherine de Valois was the daughter of King Charles VI of France and Isabelle of Bavaria. When she was fourteen, her parents entered into negotiations to marry her to King Henry V of England who demanded a large dowry and acknowledgement of his right to the throne of France. After much bantering back and forth, the deal was struck. The moment Henry saw Katherine, he was smitten by her great beauty and they were soon married. True love grew between them and Katherine was very happy with her new surroundings and husband.

In 1421, while Henry was fighting in France, she gave birth to a son and named him after his father. Before Henry could return home to meet his namesake, he died of dysentery. At the tender age of 21, Katherine became a widow. Not long afterwards, her father died, leaving the infant Prince Henry to be become king of England and in parts of France.

In time, Katherine fell in love with Edmund Beaufort, her late husband's cousin. Humphrey, her late husband's brother, concerned she might remarry, introduce a bill in Parliament making it impossible for Katherine to remarry without the king's consent. If she did so, her husband would lose his lands and possessions, but their children would be considered members of the royal family. Oh, and he also included the clause that the king must have reached his majority before he could grant his approval. At the time this new law was set in place, the king was only six years old. Edward Beaufort abandoned his ambitious quest to marry the dowager queen and soon found himself another wife. Katherine was trapped, kept under watch by the king's counsellors.

Ah, but soon, love returned to her life in the form of a handsome man named Owen Tudor of Wales. An impoverished noble, he worked as the keeper of her household and wardrobe. Their love burgeoned, they secretly married, and she soon bore him a child, sending shock waves and scandal through the court.

The Forbidden Queen is a historical novel that sticks close to the facts. The story is conscientiously written with lush detail and historical insight. What I found most compelling were the struggles Katherine faced as she fought to stay close to her son while machinations were at work to keep her at a good distance from any decision making. She was to appear by the boy-king's side, but was prevented from holding any influence over him.

I had never read a novel about this lesser known queen, and was thrilled to have her story portrayed with such passion, elegance, and vivid detail. The writing flowed easily, making it a pleasant read. Highly recommended.
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on 14 February 2014
The first third of this book is complete drivel. Anne 0'Brien has created a dull wimpy Queen who constantly moans about the absence of Henry V. This makes for a terrible read and there is no historical evidence to support it.

If you survive this far the book does improve The wimp gets a personality and we get some historical context. But it is not historical fiction. It is just two romantic tales the author has invented. It is 15th Century Jilly Cooper without the sex. It is interesting but Philippa Gregory is much better at historical fiction and there are loads of writers of romance so don't bother with this. Catherine of Valois, Henry V and Owain Tudor all deserve better.
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