My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In her first novel, The Queen’s Pawn (Penguin Group, 2010) North Carolina native Christy English brings a pivotal, yet largely unknown historical woman to life. English introduces readers to the bright and inquiring mind of Princess Alais of France starting with the day she is told she will be sent across the Channel to be raised and marry Prince Richard of England. It’s a dynastic marriage made to maintain the uneasy peace with England. Motherless after the queen died upon her birth, she is her father’s favorite, but the King of France needed the peace more than he needed his daughter. Though England is France’s traditional enemy, Alais goes without complaint.
Waiting for her in England is her betrothed’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England. By the book’s start, she is already a woman of fifty, having loved (and left) a husband and paramours, ridden in the Crusades, and had already snared the King of England and given him sons and daughters. She didn’t accomplish this by simply letting things happen—she made them happen. English shows just how Eleanor wielded her power by giving us a woman shrewd in judging and manipulating others, and doing so without being overt about it. It takes a special sort of mind and an iron will, and Eleanor is a master of both. We listen to Eleanor’s thoughts when she first sees Alais and recognizes a kindred spirit, sees herself in the girl’s potential. Already estranged from her husband and lonely, she adopts Alais as her own daughter and by lavishing her love and wisdom on her, teaches Alais how to navigate the tricky waters of the royal court.
The trouble starts when Alais sets off on her own against the advice of Eleanor in a bid to secure her future and to cement the peace between the two countries … and the rest is history.
Christy English provides the reader with crisp clean language and description sandwiched between bits of action and dialogue. The elegance and imagery in her prose helps the reader focus on what really matters: the two women who drive the story and how their choices, for good or ill, affect those around them.
She gives us two women with intelligence and spirit when women are expected to have neither. Instead, we have strong characters, political intrigue, love, betrayal, heartbreak and more. The real surprise is the alternating chapters in the first person voice, allowing us an immediate access to the two women that third person narrative cannot provide.
I’m looking forward to reading more of English’s historical novels! For more information about Christy English, visit here.