Constance of York, Lady Dispenser, is many things. In 1399 even the best connected, wealthiest woman in the country has limits to her power. Her husband, a man of pride and ambition, owns her lands. Her father is a Royal duke, but not as influential as her elder brother Edward, whose survival instincts and huge ambitions may prove destructive to those around him. The timing of the novel is at one of the pivot points of history; the weak and vacillating Richard II is trying and failing to maintain his hold on the kingdom. Constance’s feelings for Richard mean that she is experiencing more sorrow and fear for him than she will admit, as he has revived her family’s power, and made her husband a great power in the land. As Henry seizes the throne, and establishes his rule, can she negotiate his revenge against her family, the plots and plans which may well threaten her safety, and discover true love for the first time? This is a novel where ambition, betrayal and revenge dominate a woman’s life, and she must make choices that could affect not only her survival, but the fate of an entire country. As always, this author proves her skill in combining the personal and public, the real woman against forces that could well destroy her and those she comes to love. O’Brien shows her mastery of the historical novel, as she uses extensive research to write the telling detail of clothes, food and jewelry that makes the settings seem so real, while maintaining an overview of the historical events which surround the characters. The characters are finely drawn, as Constance and her immediate family are brilliantly recreated in all their inconsistencies and emotions. This tenth novel from Anne O’Brien is a fittingly brilliant portrait of a woman torn by so many forces and her own feelings to create an enthralling and unexpectedly involving historical read, transformed by an unusual romance. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel.
The novel begins with Constance, her husband Thomas, her brothers Edward and Dickon all pressurising a nervous Friar to reveal the future through the use of dice. They want to know if King Richard’s campaign in Ireland will bring glory and further gain for the family they represent. This is not an idle speculation as the enormous fortunes which Constance and her family represent are intertwined with this annointed king. Thomas’ family has a troubled history of forfeiture of their lands within recent memory; it is only because of Richard’s affection for him that he has recovered his status. As Henry comes to power nothing seems fixed, as previous favourites stand to lose everything. The questions of what, if anything they can do emerge. Exactly what will happen to Constance and those around her in a brutal time is the theme of this moving and fascinating novel, as she must make far reaching decisions for herself and those closest to her.
This is a great historical novel and thoroughly deserves to be a success. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, especially with a central female character.