Sunday, October 3, 2010

Review: The King's Mistress by Emma Campion

The King's Mistress: A NovelFrom the Back Cover:

When had I choice to be other than I was?

From childhood Alice Salisbury has learnt obedience in all things and at fourteen, dutifully marries the man her father has chosen for her - at the cost of losing the love of her mother forever and the family she holds dear. But merchant Janyn Perrers is a good and loving husband and Alice soon learns to enjoy her marriage. Until a messenger brings news of his disappearance and she discovers that her husband had many secrets, secrets he didn't want her to know - but which have now put a price on her own head and that of her beloved daughter.

Her only chance to survive lies in the protection of King Edward III and Queen Philippa and she must dutifully embrace her fate once more - as a virtual prisoner at Court. And when the king singles her out for more than just royal patronage, she knows she has little choice but to accept his advances. But obeying the king brings with it many burdens as well as pleasures, as she forfeits her good name to keep her daughter free from hurt. Still a young woman and guided by her intellect and good business sense, she learns to use her gifts as wisely as she can. But as one of the king's favorites, she brings jealousy and hatred in her wake and some will stop at nothing to see her fall from grace.

There are a couple of things that make crafting a believable, romantic fictional account of Alice Perrer's story hard to do. First, the author has her work cut out for her in trying to persuade the reader that Alice is not as bad as her contemporaries made her out to be. History has accused Alice of taking advantage of a senile king for her own financial and political gain, and of usurping the position of a beloved dead queen, taking her place beside the king as the queen would have, even wearing the queen's jewels in public. After Edward's death she was tried by Parliament for "crimes against the king and kingdom", stripped of her holdings and banished from England.

Second, by the time Alice becomes Edward's mistress he's an old man, and the author has to try really hard to make an old man sexually attractive and to make the reader believe that a woman as young and vibrant and beautiful as Alice would enjoy bedding him. For the most part I think she succeeds here, but there were one or two descriptive phrases that made me cringe a little!

Campion excels at using Alice's story to depict the plight of medieval women, at the mercy of the men in their lives, and Alice's mantra: When had I choice to be other than I was?, pretty much sums it up. And though I think Campion's portrayal of Alice is probably fairly accurate, I think she took Alice too far in the other direction. Alice is a little too perfectly good and selfless, especially in the face of such circumstances. But she's very likeable, and I was really rooting for her.

Be forewarned: some of the plot points in this story are completely fictional. I don't mind that as long as they are believable within the confines of the time period and the author is up front about it, and in this case she is. Overall I enjoyed this book. I thought it was well written and easy to lose myself in, and I enjoyed reading about some of these historical figures from another viewpoint, since Katherine by Anya Seton is really the only novel I had previously read about this time period. I look forward to future novels from this author.

Rating:  4 Stars out of 5

*Please note: This review references an advance copy received from the publisher, and therefore the final published copy may differ. Though I received this book from the publisher, these are my honest and unbiased thoughts, and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.


  1. Great review! Will have to add this book to TBR!

  2. I enjoyed this one as well. There is another book about Alice that was recently released in the UK (only) - the People's Queen by Vanora Bennett. I haven't read it yet but have heard good things about it.

  3. I am really looking forward to reading this book. Thanks for the review! I just followed your blog; love the name :)

  4. This one has been sitting on my TBR shelves for some time! I have it on my "Fall Into Reading" challenge list, so I'm hoping to get to it before December 20th! Thanks for the review! I love historical fiction, and this one sounds wonderful!

    Julie @ Knitting and Sundries


I love comments! Getting feedback on my posts makes my day! Thanks for being here!