Review: The Shadow Queen by Anne O’Brien

Once I read about the tempestuous life of Richard II’s mother, I began to understand a bit more about his behavior—if it’s true that the proverbial apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. To say that Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent was impetuous was an understatement. Because of her lineage and great beauty, she knew she could get away with much that an ordinary girl wouldn’t even attempt, but even Joan seems to have pushed her luck. Driven by ambition as much as love, she got herself into situations that tarnished her reputation for the rest of her life. Two husbands at the same time? How often does that happen to a woman? Could she have avoided some of her predicaments? It’s hard to say; she was up against personalities as unyielding as her own:

(King) Edward turned again to me, his ire a terrible thing. Thomas’s fingers were firm and steady around mine, giving me his whole support, but indeed I did not need it. I had always seen this eventuality. Here it was. And here Thomas and I must make our case to be together.
“And you allowed yourself to be remarried, madam.”
“I was given no choice, sir. My mother and my uncle were very persuasive. I was forbidden to speak of my marriage contract with Sir Thomas. It was not my wish, but I could not defy my mother and uncle.”

On the other hand, I got the impression she merely took the path of least resistance. But she was young then, and hadn’t learned to assert herself. Actually, I found this Joan a bit irritating at times; I think it was on purpose. She was very smug and didn’t seem overly concerned about the damaged lives along the way. Her second husband Will Salisbury was incredibly understanding, although I found it hard to believe that he knew all about her first situation and was still willing to go along with a second marriage. And even though he lost patience with her once things looked hopeless for him, she had the audacity to resent his behavior. She’s lucky to have escaped unscathed!

Joan did live a charmed life. However, as a reader, being a fan of Richard II, I was sorry to see that her son was such a minor character; once Joan was no longer the center of attention, the story petered out—way before her death. I guess that would be typical, wouldn’t it? Nonetheless, this was a lively tale and very enjoyable.
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