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Historical Fiction Review: The King's Concubine by Anne O'Brien

 The King's Concubine by Anne O'Brien

won from The Book Pushers

Synopsis from Goodreads

A child born in the plague year of 1348, abandoned and raised within the oppressive walls of a convent, Alice Perrers refused to take the veil, convinced that a greater destiny awaited her. Ambitious and quick witted, she rose above her obscure beginnings to become the infamous mistress of Edward III. But always, essentially, she was alone... 

Early in Alice’s life, a chance meeting with royalty changes everything: Kindly Queen Philippa, deeply in love with her husband but gravely ill, chooses Alice as a lady-in-waiting. Under the queen’s watchful eye, Alice dares to speak her mind. She demands to be taken seriously. She even flirts with the dynamic, much older king. But she is torn when her vibrant spirit captures his interest...and leads her to a betrayal she never intended. 

In Edward’s private chambers, Alice discovers the pleasures and paradoxes of her position. She is the queen’s confidante and the king’s lover, yet she can rely only on herself. It is a divided role she was destined to play, and she vows to play it until the bitter end. Even as she is swept up in Edward’s lavish and magnificent court, amassing wealth and influence for herself, becoming an enemy of his power-hungry son John of Gaunt, and a sparring partner to resourceful diplomat William de Windsor, she anticipates the day when the political winds will turn against her. For when her detractors voice their hatred,and accusations of treason swirl around her, threatening to destroy everything she has achieved, who will stand by Alice then?

Amazon  US/UK | Amazon kindle US/UK(£3.99) | The Book Depository US/UK | Fishpond

8/10

* * *
As a novel, the story of a rise of Alice Perrers might seem a bit dry, but as a historical account of a magnificent woman who achieved so much way ahead of her time? It's glorious!


I loved Alice Perrers because no matter what she faced she kept her integrity. I'm actually really fascinated with that time period and Plantagenets are my favorite royal branch of British monarchy.

 The narration is led by Alice Perrers largely from her memories. She talks about her common upbringing in the Abbey on the outskirts of London and a strange series of events that made her rise up so unexpectedly high.

What surprised me most was that Alice is not pretty, she is considered ugly but her features are just striking. Because she is convinced that her appearance is worthless she relies on her sharp wit, business instinct and for the most of her life avoids mirrors. Her forthrightness and charm is what attracts the men in her life.

Edward III is portrayed in the sunset of his reign, but he is still blinding Alice with his golden glow and when she meets him she is truly admiring him and slowly falls in love despite the huge age difference between them (she is 17 and he is 50+). Edward is such an interesting monarch! 

His marriage to Philippa when they both were just kids became a love match and they raised 12 children together, however Philippa is dying from a grave illness (I'm guessing it might be a severe rheumatoid arthritis because she is in a lot of pain most of the time and the slightest touch feels like torture) so when she meets Alice she decides to push her in Edward's path so she would become his mistress in her own stead.

Two women make a sort of a silent pact. Alice's respect and admiration for Philippa is running deep, but she has to keep silence and be despised by the court for capturing King's heart and betraying the Queen.

There are so many yummy bits in this novel I'm at loss as to what to talk about. Alice herself is one of these rare women who manage to create incredible path for themselves. When she is married for the first time, she makes a decision to buy her first property with her husband's secretary help. By the time she's been King's mistress for 10 years she is an owner of 56 properties around London. 56! Do you know how incredibly rare this is for a woman of common upbringing or any upbringing in those days? I was in awe of her.

She stays loyal to the King especially when his health falters and he starts to deteriorate physically and mentally. She tries to protect him no matter what.  

Her second husband reminded me of Rhett Butler. William de Windsor is an ambitious, cold-hearted son of a bitch but at the same time over the years between cutting remarks and ugly truths  which pepper his verbal exchanges with Alice they develop genuine affection for each other which get them through the hardships of King's final days and his death.

The King's Concubine is a very interesting novel, full of charismatic intense characters, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

* * *
Очень понравилась книга, нормально по-человечески написано, а не как американские сериалы типа Merlin, где кроме постельных сцен и драк мало что есть.

Я обожаю эпоху Плантагенетов, ничего не поделаешь - тут вам такие громкие имена, и Чёрный Принц и Джон Гонт, и битвы и крестовые походы и Столетняя война чего ещё только нет... Удивительно, что до этой книги я ничего об Алис Перрерс  не слышала.

А ведь какой она редкой, совершенно уникальной оказалась женщиной для своего времени! Анна О'Бриен спекулирует, что сама жена Эдварда Третьего - Филиппа свела пару вместе... Но это я уже забегаю вперёд.

Анна выросла в аббатстве на окраине Лондона, подозревая что она - незаконнорожденная, от которой избавился один из родителей. Только череда удивительных обстоятельств позволила ей сначала встретить Джоан, будущую жену Чёрного Принца, которая дала маленькой девочке совет о том, как женщине можно возвыситься, потом она ненадолго вышла замуж за старичка-ростовщика, и свадебным подарком того купила своё первое имущество по совету его секретаря...

После смерти мужа от чумы, возвратившись в аббатство, Алис попадает на глаза Филиппе, умирающей от мучительной, тяжёлой болезни (я подозреваю, судя по описанию, ревматоидный артрит). Филиппа берёт 15-летнюю Алис в фрейлины с планом, что ту заметит и полюбит её муж 50-летний Эдвард.

Сама Алис некрасива, её внешность можно назвать в лучшем случае интересной, и она это понимает, поэтому большую часть своей жизни избегает зеркал. Её шарм сосредоточен в её остром уме и прямолинейности. 

Она искренне влюбляется в Эдварда и становится его фавориткой в 17 лет. Их связь продолжается более 10 лет и всё это время Алис сохраняет свою искренность и заботится об Эдварде как может. В то же время  она продолжает покупку недвижимости и под конец правления короля она владеет 56 домами (только 15 из которых подарены Эдвардом).

56! Представляете, мои дорогие?! Если бы она была мужчиной, ей бы дали аристократический титул и прославили за инстинкт бизнесмена. Так как она была женщиной, современники её осуждали и интриговали за её спиной, чтобы отобрать у неё всё,  чего она так долго добивалась.

Книга читается как воспоминания Алис, она пишет о врагах в лице Изабеллы - дочери Эдварда Третьего и Джоан, жены его сына. Она также пишет о своих интересных отношениях с дипломатом Уильямом де Виндзором, который впоследствие станет её мужем...

Я думаю, что мне надо заткнуться, так как я и так уже заспойлерила книгу. Читайте, пожалуйста! Очень интересная эпоха, харизматичная героиня, хоть написано и немного суховато, всё же чрезвычайно увлекательно!
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