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4.1 out of 5 stars
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4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 24 March 2014
Theresa Tomlinson's review
Mar 24, 14 · edit

4 of 5 stars

I started reading this book with some trepidation as Anya Seton's KATHERINE was the book that started me on a lifelong obsession with historical novels - and I have eventually ended up writing them myself. I didn't like the over glamorous cover design! At first I felt uncertain - the book was very easy to read and romantic - starting straight into the Katherine Swynford/John of Gaunt relationship with very little build up, but the more I continued, the more I found that the remarkable historical events seemed to take over. This story cannot follow the classical romance because we know roughly what happened and a lot of it was not romantic at all. I felt that Anne O Brian conveyed the darker moments on Katherine's life very well and I found myself reading late at night, gripped by the heroines hardships - desperate for things to improve, as I knew they must. All in all I think this novel does add something of value to Katherine's astonishing story and I feel that the more writers who tackle this interesting period the better. When I finished it I went straight back to read the Anya Seton version again and then on to Alison Weir's excellent biography of Katherine Swynford. That can't be a bad reaction! Who is going to write the next version? Judging by the interest that has developed in the Tudor period from the many different versions - this could be the next big thing!
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VINE VOICEon 13 January 2014
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
As the BBC's `Big Read' showed Anya Seton's 'Katherine' [l954] has had an enduring appeal to readers for sixty years. It was one of the books on my mother's book shelf and I read and loved it as a young teenager. In later years, memories of enjoying this book led me firstly to undertake a pilgrimage to Lincoln Cathedral to Katherine's grave and more importantly to read Alison Weir's non fiction account 'Katherine Swynford'. Weir's book is a scholarly and fascinating account of the life story of Katherine and John of Gaunt. With these two great books firmly in mind I approached Anne O'Brien's new take on Katherine and John's love story 'The Scandalous Duchess' with some trepidation. I am happy to say this new telling of the old story did not disappoint. The story is broadly[or perhaps I should say `loosely'?] on the same lines as Seton's novel [how could it not be] but this is definitely a fresh take on the story and, although O'Brien does not credit the outstanding research done by Weir,her novel does read as if she has taken Weir's research into account when writing her story . There is no hint in Seton's novel that John of Gaunt had many sexual encounters apart from his liaison with Katherine. However O'Brien does not shirk from writing about this and the effect, we in the 21st century assume, it would have had on Katherine. Nevertheless O'Brien does stop short at speculating, as Weir does, that there is a possibility that the 58 year old John of Gaunt died of a venereal disease. For the romantically inclined reader,however,the main thing is that, as history shows us,despite misunderstandings, the lovers overcame many years of trials and tribulations until in the end : `Reader' she `married him'! The dubious fact that this was to lead to her descendants giving us the perfidious Henry 7th is something even this Richard 3rd fan was prepared to put one side in the sheer pleasure of such a satisfactory, and historically surprising ending. fjs 
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on 24 April 2014
Anne. O'Brien has produced her best book to date. Her knowledge of history and her infinite a facility to describe the feelings of people have helped make this the best book yet. She has chosen an extremely difficult subject, as there is so little factual history about her. But the Duchess comes to life under her skilled guidance. Lancaster is the large figure that he has always been, but her sympathic playing of him, makes him become a real person, with a glimpse of the overbearing tyrant that he could be.
The descriptions of life in those days is made real, the dripping of the roof at Kettletthorpe compared to the riches and opulence of The Savoy, makes one realise the different ways, that people existed in in those days. Katherine yearns to return to court life, but she is bound to her moldering keep, in order to preserve it for the son of her marriage.
Katherine is frequently torn between her love for Lancaster and returning to the Keewp and her duties as the land holder there.
A marvelous view of life on those days, which made me feel as though I was sharing the whole story with Katherine, together with her joys and sorrows. A superior book to Anya Setton's Katherine, the previous definite book on her.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I think any author writing a novel about Katherine Swynford has a hard row to hoe. The quintessential historical novel about this enigmatic and historically important lady has to be Anya Seton’s ‘Katherine’ and for many readers any other novels about her are going to be measured against this classic and found wanting. Unfortunately this new novel featuring Katherine falls into this category.

If you haven’t read ‘Katherine’ then you will probably enjoy this romanticised version of what is actually a marvellous love story. John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford overcame many years of separation to achieve what seems to have been a happy marriage and this shines through the book. I found some of the dialogue clunky and unbelievable and found myself skimming some of it. Unfortunately I found this book a disappointing read.
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on 16 February 2015
I notice from the cover that the Times has said: "Outdoes even Philippa Gregory." I assume this the beginning of the sentence and the end reads: "in using jarring modern idiom in a historical setting". This happened pretty much on every page. When a 14C Duke apologies for being too hasty by saying: "I have been too previous" one is immediately pulled back to 21st century.

The novel was written as a breathy, breathless romance in the voice of a self-obsessed modern woman. At times she was grandiose, but mainly she was self-pitying and mistrustful. All these things are fine for a voice, but they need to have the reason for them explained. There was no sense of exploring her character whatsoever. The protagonist created a roller coaster of emotion for which there was no explanation apart from her own paranoia. This was regularly cranked up to provide some kind of drama. After we had been through this a few times I felt very irritated at being manipulated in this way.

I thought it was dire really. Mills and Boon have missed an author here.

About halfway through I was thinking of giving up but I realised that I didn't have anything else to read. And then I thought that maybe I did want to know what happened. So I gritted my teeth and read the rest. Reader, I finished it. Hence the two stars.
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on 29 June 2015
I chose to read this book before Anya Seton’s “Katherine” deliberately because I did not want to base my opinion on a possibly unfair comparison between what reviews paint as THE milestone fiction novel on Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt and this new attempt by an author whom I generally appreciate to tackle the same subject.

I’m afraid that however unprejudiced, my review must confirm this novel is no masterpiece, at least not for those readers who seek historical fiction to get some facts (possibly right) alongside a fictional account of the “behind closed doors” actions and dialogues leading to the documented events. Ms O’Brien has made it a personal brandmark to write all fiction novels about her heroines in the first person and narrowing down the point of view of the novel to one character usually creates problems in finding a way to deliver background information that is consistent with this approach. This is even more true in this case, where our main character is little better than a bed-warmer and child-breeder for over 20 years and the only information we have on the very complex historical period she lived in is either through gossip or through her lover’s words.

No wonder then that the account of such a dramatic event like the Peasants’ revolt is described in less than a paragraph in 600 pages and Katherine takes it in as little more than a deplorable nuisance that has the despicable side effect of the destruction of her lover’s London palace, the Savoy, that she thinks of with affection remembering her first romps in bed with the Duke of Lancaster. At least the product description was honest in this respect “She will live in the shadows of the most powerful man in England in the hope of a love greater than propriety.” And that’s exactly what you get: shadows of major historical facts and a whole book concentrated on a selfabsorbed woman who was the object of one of the most famous love affairs in English history. Shame is, even that could have been rendered more plausibly and with real passion and inner torment, with the Duke’s phrase “You stir my loins” setting the mood and tone of the novel from the very first pages.

For the rest, the book is well written and the vocabulary is rich and varied, even if the excessive thought-chewing between one sentence and the other during dialogues did take a toll on my possibly already worn patience. So, it is true that it can be generally considered to be better than Philippa Gregory, but it still does not mean this is an entirely satisfying reading, especially when you know this very same author was and is capable of better achievements.
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on 27 August 2015
I thoroughly enjoyed this book from Miss. O'Brien's pen. I read many of the reviews and found that most of them tried to put it against Anya Seton's book, Katherine. I found it unfair to do this. I, too read Katherine way back in the 60's and loved it and not realise it had become an iconic book. Miss O'Brien's book deals with Katherine and her Duke as they discover their love that was to last a life time and beyond. Of course, as with all historical characters, we do not know their thoughts and feelings, but with the amount of research that a novelist of Miss. O'Brien,s calibre does you can imagine. Read this book as a stand alone book and be transported back to walk beside Katherine and her John. Their passion must have been great to have lasted through all the dreadful tragedies that happened to them. Perhaps for them, love did conquer all.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Anne O'Brien's reputation as a writer is well known to lovers of good historical fiction. She always manages to put flesh on the bones of those historical characters of whom too little is written in the chronicles of the time.

She certainly has her work cut out with this one: Katherine Swynford is well known as the long standing mistress of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and third son of the long reigned monarch, Edward 111. That at one stage he publicly repudiated her, only to later marry her and seek a Papal dispensation legitimising their children, all born before their marriage, is a matter of historical fact. That on his death he left instructions he was to be buried alongside his first wife Blanche is also a matter of public record. There is little in between about Katherine and their relationship.

Anne O''Brien weaves her tale using the well known historical markers and gives us the essence of their tale. She uses Gaunt's well documented arrogance and over weening ambition and Katherine's relatively humble beginnings to good effect. With her great talent for characterisation these fourteenth century people jump off the page for the reader. All is deftly set against the huge historical events of the time - at home and abroad. The effects of failure in France, the quest to restore the throne of Castile to its rightful owners, the impact of a child king on the English psyche, the Peasant's revolt are all here. All woven into the tale of a love affair which was so powerful it transcended the wrath of Church and State.

For lovers of historical genre this novel will not disappoint.
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on 18 August 2014
Ketherine Swynford interests me as a person, as does her story. This book is well written, the characters are believable and you suffer with them while they have to be separated for political reasons. It gives a believable picture of how people were used and discarded for political reasons, especially royal brides. I have read the story by another author, slightly different, but that's to be expected in fiction. I recommend it for lovers of historical fiction.
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on 29 July 2014
I cut my historical teeth on Anya Setons Katherine which just mesmerised me so, taking this book in hand I prepared myself for a bad read.
However..after a shaky start I continued to be gripped! My heart broke along side Katherine's and I fell into despair with them both
and their forbidden love! Anne O'Brien has brought them both to life again and I was swept along with magic of it. I highly recommend this book but just a warning... bare with it on the first couple of chapters. Enjoy!
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