The King’s Sister by Anne O’Brien

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “1382. Elizabeth of Lancaster, sister to the future King Henry IV, has learned the shrewd tricks of the court from England’s most powerful men. As the daughter of John of Gaunt, she knows a Plantagenet Princess should never defy her father’s wishes. But, rejecting her duty, Elizabeth weds the charming and ruthlessly ambitious Sir John Holland, Duke of Exeter, half-brother to King Richard II. 1399. Elizabeth’s brother Henry has seized the throne. Her husband, confidant to the usurped Richard, masterminds a secret plot against the new king. Trapped in a dangerous web, Elizabeth must make a choice. Defy the King and betray her family. Or condemn her husband and send him to his death.”

REVIEW: The deposing of Richard II and his replacement by Henry IV is a period of history where my knowledge is not as keen as in other periods, and what little I do know has been gained from the plays of Shakespeare. Therefore, I was really looking forward to finding out more about this turbulent period of history, particularly as the story is told through the eyes of a woman who fought on both sides: Elizabeth of Lancaster, who was torn between her husband and her brother. O’Brien does a wonderful job of catching the atmosphere of the period, to the extent where I found it easy to imagine the world of the court through her vivd descriptions, gaining a sense of how terrifying such a place could be when factions were at war. Elizabeth herself is instantly likeable and easy to relate to, and has many of the headstrong opinions and desire for free will as modern women do. Engaged to a child of six when she herself is seventeen, Elizabeth cannot bear to wait so long to enjoy the life of a married woman, and finds herself increasingly drawn to the womanising John Holland who, in turn, finds himself willing to love and commit to Elizabeth. The two embark on an illicit affair, and are permitted to marry only when Elizabeth is discovered to be pregnant, much to the disappointment of her father. Their courtship is passionate and their marriage happy and loving, though I did enjoy the fact that O’Brien did not create an idealistic marriage for them as many historical authors tend to do; the couple frequently cross swords and disagree even during their happy years, and this continues when Elizabeth’s brother Henry takes the drastic step of deposing Richard and seizing the English throne for himself. This turn of events is no secret, but seen through Elizabeth’s eyes the reader is given a whole new perspective. Elizabeth is torn between protecting her husband, who is in the process of hatching a plot against Henry’s life in order to restore Richard; or saving her beloved brother. The turn of events is tragic, and as we know of Henry’s success it is obvious even to those who know little about the period, like myself, that Richard and John cannot possibly win. Even so, we experience this dilemma with Elizabeth, causing us to be presented with our own moral dilemma of what we might do in her position. The death of John is written with intensity but also a great deal of sensitivity on O’Brien’s part; the grief Elizabeth feels seems so real to the reader that we are able to grieve alongside her. Overall, this is clearly a well-researched novel and this shines through in the gripping and fascinating writing, which has taught me much more about a period I had neglected to study; and all through the eyes of a female historical figure who, I find, I am now desperate to know more about.

 

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