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Review: The Queen's Pawn, by Christy English

Pages: 378

Original date of publication: 2010

My edition: 2010 (NAL)

Why I decided to read: heard about it through HFO

How I acquired my copy: review copy from the publisher, March 2010

The Queen’s Pawn is a novel about Alais, Princess of France, who was betrothed to Richard Plantagenet. She went to England at a young age, and was raised in the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Later she (supposedly) had an affair with Henry II. In this novel, the author also posits that it was Alais who seduced Henry so that she could become Queen herself.

It seems to me that it must be a challenge to write a novel about Alais. She grew up in one of the most well-known royal courts in the world, yet there’s not much that’s known about her. Several authors have tried to write her story (including Judith Koll Healey, who write a couple of mysteries featuring Alais), and, unfortunately, I’m still looking for a really good novel about her. Thus one just didn’t do it for me completely, I’m afraid—Christy English certainly isn’t in the league of say, Sharon Kay Penman or Elizabeth Chadwick. But who can be? Maybe my standards are too high.

I think the problem became apparent in the author’s Afterward: she’s clearly one of those authors who think of history as having happened, instead of happening; of thinking of her characters as having lived as opposed to living, breathing people. It’s because of this that her characters seem a bit stagnant; even these well-known historical figures don’t quite leap off the page for me. Christy English describes the Plantagenet court very well, but it also seems, at times, at bit modern and sterile for me. And the historical backdrop of the novel, fascinating unto itself, takes a back seat to the romance side of it. Also be forewarned that there’s a lot of sex in this book. A lot. I wouldn’t say I’m particularly squeamish about sex in fiction, but I felt that the sex in this novel really didn’t add much to the plot; so much so that after a few times, I found myself thinking, “OK, I get it, can we move on now?”

Personally, I also didn’t really believe parts of the plot—that it was Alais who seduced Henry, for example. And Alais’s decision at the end of the book seemed far too sudden for me to totally buy it. Add on top of that the overwhelming chess metaphors, and it got to be a bit too much in places for me. Still, I thought the author wrote from the point of view of Eleanor very well, and there are some beautiful descriptive passages here and there. They seem to eat an awful lot of squab in this novel, don't they?


Clare said…
Excessive sex and stagnant characters? I think I'll definitely avoid this. Thanks for the heads up!

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6. Unrequited, by Lisa Phillips
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