Having read and enjoyed The Forbidden Queen, The King’s Sister and The Queen’s Choice, three of her previous historical fictions, Anne O’Brien has become one of my go-to authors for my historical fix. So I was excited at the end of last year, to pick up her latest offering The Shadow Queen, which was released earlier that year.
In The Shadow Queen, O’Brien swept me back to 1340 to meet the beautiful, headstrong Plantagenet princess, Joan of Kent. She was the daughter of the attainted traitor, Edmund of Woodstock, the 1st Earl of Kent and first cousin to King Edward III. Joan has come to be better known to history as ‘The Fair Maid of Kent’, the wife of the doomed Black Prince and the mother of the child-king Richard II. However in her lifetime Joan’s reputation was not so good due to her ambitious nature and a string of salacious marriages!
First, at the tender age of just 12 years old, Joan secretly married Thomas Holland, a lowly knight, without gaining royal consent. This was followed only a year later by a bigamous marriage to the far more suitable William Montacute, the heir to the Earl of Salisbury, which was arranged by their mothers. With the chaos that ensured after all was revealed and the Pope was appealed to, to decide the matter, you’d have thought Joan would have learnt her lesson. But oh no! As a young widow, Joan went on to secretly marry Edward Woodstock, the son and heir of her cousin the king, again without royal consent or a Papal dispensation for their close kinship.
Of course if Joan had learnt from her mistakes and curbed her behaviour we wouldn’t have such a fascinating life to read about now! Previously, I have not read anything about Joan, so this was as much a history lesson as it was an entertaining read. O’Brien portrays Joan as an independent, passionate and ambitious woman, in a time where these were most unattractive traits in a woman. I couldn’t help but admire Joan who knew her mind from a young age and acted upon it, whatever the consequences, however I can’t say I particularly liked her because many of her actions are also rash and selfish.
Other characters it was interesting to read about was Edward Woodstock, the Black Prince who I had never read about before either. Also seeing Richard II and Edward IV young after having read about them as adults in O’Brien’s The King’s Sister and The Queen’s Choice. Plus it was Joan’s third son from her first marriage, John Holland, who went on to have his own salacious affair and subsequent marriage in The King’s Sister. I just love how O’Brien’s characters overlap in her books, which makes it possible for us as readers to see the bigger picture of the time period all from the perspective of the powerful, if often overlooked, women of the time.
Overall, I thought The Shadow Queen was a well written look into the rather thrilling and racy life of the ambitious Joan of Kent. I look forward to reading more by Anne O’Brien – I already have her The King’s Concubine waiting on my Kindle for me. Good read.
Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.
Have you read this? Have you read any of Anne O’Brien’s other novels?