After the big, well known authors, comes a novel I really enjoyed much more…The Chosen Queen, by an author now local to me, Joanna Courtney. Ignore the sulky blonde on the cover, ignore the absence of hype on the cover. Just buy it and read it.
It was on our recent Scottish/Northern jaunt that despite the lure of bags of books I had acquired (thanks, Barter Books) I picked up this book. I had just finished Philippa’s magnum opus and was feeling a little dizzy from mentally dashing around Scotland and remembering which Scottish lord was which. I had picked this book up in Derby’s Waterstones partly because I noticed that the author lived in Derbyshire, and that it mentioned Godiva. Being born in Coventry, homeland of the legend, I thought that it was worth a look. I vaguely remembered Edith being Harold’s mistress, who hunted for his body at Hastings. So I was a little confused by the book’s main character being called Edyth, and not Harold’s mistress.
This novel tells the story of Edyth, who was the only Queen of a united Wales, and had to make arrangements afterwards. It opens with her as a curious girl, fascinated by adult relationships, but also with a sophisticated understanding of the political realities of pre-conquest England and soon, Wales. There is concern for ripped dresses, and mention of the fabrics and fittings of the world, but not so that I felt if I heard one more thing about the intricate nature of costume I would scream. This novel keeps moving, describing the feelings of Edyth at her wedding, but also drawing a stunning picture of the battles and grim realities of life and childbirth at a dangerous time. There are lyrical patches, there is longing for a different life, a different love, but a sense of real experience.
I think what I really enjoyed about this book was the picture of women as the realists, the activists in a world of politics and warfare. The men are strong and brave overall, yet prey to the temper and misguided decisions that reminded me of Elizabeth Chadwick’s heroes ( apart from William Marshal, of course…). Women are seen in this novel as more than just child bearers, more than just symbols, but positive agents for peace or strategy. The best aspect of this novel is the relationship between Edyth and Lady Svana, maintained through letters, forgiveness and a facing of reality which seems rare in some historical novels. Obviously, any novel that has you believing in the main character enough to be mentally shouting advice to her or him is a success, but in this novel the women seem to see the situations that they find themselves in clearly and act.
Another sign of a good book for me is that I abandon other books, even those I am enjoying, in order to read a particular novel. This one had me reading while trying to negotiate breakfast with the other hand…
I notice that the next novel in the trilogy comes out on the 22nd September. I am looking forward to it!!