Thursday, July 22, 2010

Book Review of The King's Mistress by Emma Campion

Emma Campion's The King's Mistress: A Novel is a historical novel with romance and intrigue set during the reign of Edward III.   It tells the story of his mistress Alice Perrers.

The King's Mistress: A Novel

The blurb:
History has not been kind to Alice Perrers.  The notorious mistress of King Edward III.  Scholars and contemporaries alike have deemed her a manipulative woman who used her great beauty and sensuality to take advantage of an aging and increasingly senile king.  But who is the woman behind the scandal?  A coldhearted opportunist or someone who was fighting for her very survival?

Like most girls of her era, Alice is taught obedience in all things.  At the age of fourteen, she marries the man her father chooses for her, dutifully accepting the cost of being torn from the family she holds so dear and losing the love of her mother forever.  Despite these heartbreaks Alice finds that merchant Janyn Perrers is a good and loving husband and the two settle into a happy life together.  Their bliss is shortlived, however, unraveled the dark day a messenger appears at Alice's door and notifies her of Janyn's sudden disappearance.

In the wake of this tragedy, Alice learns that her husband kept many dangerous secrets -- secrets that have resulted in a price on her head and that of her beloved daugther.  Her only chance to survive lies in the protection of King Edward and Queen Phillipa, but she therefore must live in court as a virtual prisoner.  When she is singled out by the king for more than just royal patronage, the stakes are raised. 

Emma Campion paints a colorful and thrilling portrait of the court of Edward III -- with all of its extravagance, scandalous love affairs, political machinations, and murder -- and the devastating results of being singled out by the royal family.   At the center of the storm is Alice, surviving by her wits in this dangerous world where the choices are not always of her own making.  Emma Campion's dazzling novel shows that there is always an other side to the story.

Told from the point of view of  Alice Perrers,  The King's Mistress gives us a glimpse into the court of Edward III.  I wasn't familiar with the players or the period,  so I found the details and the story particularly interesting.

Alice is surrounded by intrigue and politics on all fronts: first, in her own family as she grows in beauty and catches the eye of a prosperous and goodlooking widower.  Her mother is emotionally unstable and is filled with jealousy and bitterness at her daughter's beauty and good fortune.  Alice is too young to fully understand what is going on, but her relatives step in.  Hearing the story of the courtship and marriage to Janyn, I felt for Alice and hoped that she would land on her feet.

Events at court and international politics lead Alice to seek the protection of King Edward III and Queen Phillipa. Alice becomes mistress to King Edward III and learns to use the corresponding influence to her advantage.  Emma Campion portrays Alice Perrers as a sympathetic character that is often a pawn in a larger game.  The King's Mistress is a fun, absorbing read and sure to delight fans of historical fiction and historical romance.

ISBN-10: 0307589250 - Hardcover $26.00
Publisher: Crown (July 6, 2010), 464 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
Emma Campion
did her graduate work in medieval and Ango-Saxon literature and is the world's foremost scholar on Alice Perrers.  She lives in Seattle.

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