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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The People's Queen by Vanora Bennett

Title: The People's Queen
Author: Vanora Bennett
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2010

Rating - 4 Crowns

Alice Perrers - more than a king's mistress!

A book I'd been waiting for with great anticipation and overall I wasn't to be disappointed. Vanora Bennett portrays an Alice I didn't always like but is exactly the sort of person I imagined her to be.

Chroniclers of her time have not been kind but when you take into account they were men and Alice was a woman who refused to stay within the acceptable boundaries of a woman's role it's not surprising. Being Edward III's mistress had its rewards but it was her independence, intelligence and keen business mind that took her into the strictly male world of finance and investment which made her a wealthy woman . It made her a natural target for resentment and dislike and an obvious choice for a scapegoat.

Little is known about her early life and I was pleased that Vanora Bennett didn't fill pages with an elaborate fictional account but settled for a short and plausible prologue of Alice's humble beginnings with some flashbacks during the story.

The book only covers eight years of Alice's life but they are pivotal years in England's history. Like most of Europe, the country is in chaos after the Black Death, the 'Mortality' which tore apart the known structure and fabric of life. Both the king and his eldest son are dying , his grandson and heir is a child which creates opportunity for the younger sons to plot and scheme to their own benefit.

There is also unrest in the lower class as the peasants begin to give voice to their grievances against crippling taxes, a movement which will soon result in the Peasant's Revolt.

I liked that the author chose to give centre stage to another social group. The merchants of London, particularly the Wool Merchants had the responsibility of restoring the economy and making enough money to pay the king's endless debts - their position was powerful but precarious. I found this very interesting although I have to admit I did get a bit lost in the financial wheelings and dealings and some of it does have the effect of slowing the pace too much.

Alice moves through all these class levels equally at home with many fascinating historical figures -Wat Tyler, Geoffrey Chaucer, John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford.

The only complaint I have is the same one I had with Vanora Bennett's Blood Royal. The book lacks the little extras ........there is a very short afterword but I would have liked a bibliography for further reading and some genealogy charts.

Overall I enjoyed it very much . It's wonderful historical fiction with the emphasis on the strong historical background which I prefer, and a very realistic look at an interesting woman and her contemporaries.

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Daphne said...

I still need to get a copy of this one - thanks for reminding me of it!

Miss Moppet said...

I really enjoyed this one too. Great review!

The Mistress of the Dark said...

I'm going to have to look for this one. It sounds fantastic

Cat said...

Thanks, Miss Moppet - definitely really good HF.

Daphne/Mistress - hope you will read and enjoy too.

Crystal - Princess of Pop Culture said...

I heard good things about one of her other books this week as well, I'm going to have to check her stuff out! I, too, like genealogy charts, there's so much bloodline crossing it's hard to keep straight who is related to who and how ;)