4 out of 5 stars
Book Source: Amazon.com
For many fans of historical fiction, Jean Plaidy's books are a treasure. For me, they are like a favorite blanket: perhaps a little dated and not on the cutting edge of a fad, but something familiar and comfortable.
The Queen's Secret, originally published in 1990 by G.P. Putnam's Sons and then reissued by Three Rivers Press in 2007, was one of Plaidy's later works and tells the story of Katherine of Valois, wife of Henry V, mother to Henry VII and by virtue of her second marriage to Owen Tudor, the founder of the Tudor kings of England.
The story is told in Katherine's voice and begins with her childhood in France as the daughter of King Charles VI, known to history as King Charles the Mad. Unable to maintain his lucidity or authority, France deteriorated into civil war in the early 15th century and the English, led by King Henry V, were able to divide, invade and conquer.
In the aftermath of the infamous Battle of Agincourt (remember? Shakespeare, anyone?), a tenative peace treaty was negotiated which acknowledged Henry to be the successor to the French crown once mad King Charles kicked the proverbial bucket and also threw in poor Katherine to sweeten the pot for Henry. They were married soon after and she bore him one child who would later become King Henry VI, although her new husband croaked soon after.
Being a widow turned out to be a good thing for Katherine. She fell in love with a Welsh commoner named Owen Tudor. They married in secret and went on to have four children, through which the Tudor line of kings would emerge. For those unfamiliar with this part of English history, I won't give away the ending, but it is a compelling tale.
Plaidy is, as usual, very true to her characters and historical facts. The voice of Katherine is almost child-like, which helps Plaidy disseminate the convoluted politics of the day in a manner readers can easily keep up with, but also likely reflects Katherine's actual knowledge of events. Despite being Queen of England, there seems to be little historical evidence that Katherine had anything to do with political intrigue. The dialog is beautifully simple, as well. Think Anna Sewell and Black Beauty.
The only complaint I had was a slight mix-up in the author's own timeline: in the story, Katherine and Owen, we are told, become lovers on the night that Katherine's young son, Henry VI, is taken from her at the age of two to be raised in another household. Later, we skip ahead in time and young Henry is now five years old when Katherine discovers she is pregnant by Owen. Plaidy writes
"Why I should have been so surprised, I cannot imagine. Owen and I had been passionate lovers for some months."
Katherine in The Queen's Secret
Well, I suppose three years can be considered "some months," but the inconsistency leaped out at me. This, coupled with the constant foreshadowing of doom and gloom, were my only bugaboos about the story.
But these small flaws should be overlooked in the face of such a wonderful tale. This is a time period not often covered by historical fiction authors. Katherine and her contemporaries, such as Joan of Arc, were to change the fate both England and France. I highly recommend this read to any historical fiction fan as it makes accessible a time period too often overlooked.
I mentioned at the beginning of this review that Three Rivers Press reissued this novel in 2007. They have done so with a handful of Jean Plaidy books. If you enjoy her work and would like to see more (since many of her older books are quite difficult to find these days), please contact Three Rivers Press (a division of Random House) and express your interest in order to keep them coming!
Title: The Queen's Secret
Author: Jean Plaidy
Publisher: Three Rivers Press