Top positive review
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An enjoyable collection of inaccuracies and cliches
on 22 July 2015
If you are thinking of approaching this book as a historically accurate fiction novel on one of England's most famous love affairs, you will be utterly disappointed.
Very few things are known about Katherine De Roet, later Lady Swynford lover and then wife to the Duke of Lancaster, but not so few that the reader can accept the author's wild speculations unquestioningly. The Duke's first wife died in 1468, his grief was portrayed by Chaucer in the Book of the Duchess and his first son by Swynford was born in 1473, so no need to picture our Prince Charming laying hands on his future lover barely 4 days after interring his beloved consort. There is also no evidence that Katherine's first marriage was not just as happy as her lover's and second husband's first marriage, with no need to picture Sir Swynford as a fatty, hairy, rude rapist who proposes marriage only because he's caught in the act of assailing our maid by the Duke, let alone the allegations on his Thomas Becket-like death making way for our heroine's surrender to the Duke's passion.
The love story itself is overromanticised: our Duke is the perfect knight in shining armour (save for 10 years of blatant and very fruitful adultery), rescueing Katherine from evil every other chapter, scarcely remembering his royal duties and ambition when his lover is near. Katherine is the perfect Cinderella (again save for 10 years of adultery and 4 illegitimate children) eventually winning the prize of honourable marriage after renouncing her love for 15 years out of a sacred vow to the Virgin Mary instead of being sent away out of political necessity. Sometimes the descriptions are sooo sweet you think the pages will stick to your fingers. Other elements in the plot (Katherine's presence at the Savoy during the Peasants' revolt, her lonely pilgrimage to Walsingham, the turn of events related to Katherine's first legitimate daughter, etc.) make the story as unplausible as it is dramatic. One passage ends with Katherine feeling like she is treading on a mine field (mines? In the Middle Ages???)
However, if you leave your need for absolute accuracy aside and lose yourself in the detailed, lavish descriptions the author delivers in her beautiful rich writing, you will feel like looking at a live Medieval fresco, with characters moving in the landscape of an era that you will feel come to life, despite the several weak points of the narrative, making you at least want to know more and investigate further on both the historical period and its characters.