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.