After reading The Forbidden Queen in 2014 and The King’s Sister last year, Anne O’Brien is rapidly becoming one of my go-to authors for my historical fix. Her latest offering is The Queen’s Choice which was released earlier this year.
This time O’Brien swept me back to 1398 to meet Joanna of Navarre (also known as Joan). She is the daughter of the hated Charles II of Navarre and the wife of John IV, Duke of Brittany. Whilst at a wedding at the French court she meets Henry Bolingbroke, the son of John of Gaunt. There is an instant connection between them which grows into true affection during Henry’s exile, but they are torn apart just as quickly when Henry returns to England to confront his cousin, Richard II. For several years life continues for Joanna, during which time she loses her husband and becomes the regent of Brittany for her young son. Then, just as she is emerging from her mourning she receives a surprising and audacious proposal from England: Henry wishes her to become his wife and queen.
Joanna is not a character I have read about before. O’Brien portrays her as a strong, intelligent and proud woman. If you know your history, you will know she does become Henry IV’s wife and the queen consort of England – to reach that though she will have to sacrifice a lot, including: the regency of Brittany and heartbreakingly the custody of her sons. Then, she faces much hostility in her new home as there is a long-standing feud between the English and Bretons. While I could often sympathise for Joanna I could also see how much her pride made situations for herself and those around her ten times worse!
A character I really enjoyed getting to know better was Henry. He was a background character in O’Brien’s The King’s Sister and I recently read a history of him by Chris Given-Wilson. This book reinforced the idea of Henry as a wise, brave and fair man, who had so much potential as a king but sadly never reached it due to arguments with parliament, constant war and finally, poor health. It was lovely to read about Henry on a more personable level – seeing him as a loving husband and father, although O’Brien also portrays him with a fiery temper. I found it particularly touching how Joanna nurses him through his long and painful illness.
Sadly, the death of Henry is not the end of the troubles for Joanna as we also see her trials and tribulations during the reign of her stepson Henry V. And, really that was the issue with this book for me – there was almost too much drama, and doom and gloom. I was left feeling a little bereft by it all. Now I totally understand that O’Brien can’t really help that historically Joanna’s life was full of trouble and so this not a reflection on her skill as a writer at all. In fact, that I felt bereft shows that O’Brien very realistically brought it all to life for me. Just for my personal taste, I just wished there had been a bit more happiness!
Overall, The Queen’s Choice is not my favourite of O’Brien’s books but it is still a well-crafted story of the lives of Joanna and Henry IV; two interesting figures in history. I still very much look forward to reading more by Anne O’Brien. Good read.
Thank you to the publishes for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.
Have you read this? Have you read any other books about Henry IV and Joanna of Navarre?