Monday, January 27, 2014

Blog Tour Review: Isabella, Braveheart of France by Colin Falconer

From the Back Cover:

She was taught to obey. Now she has learned to rebel.

12 year old Isabella, a French princess marries the King of England - only to discover he has a terrible secret. Ten long years later she is in utter despair - does she submit to a lifetime of solitude and a spiritual death - or seize her destiny and take the throne of England for herself?

Isabella is just twelve years old when she marries Edward II of England. For the young princess it is love at first sight - but Edward has a terrible secret that threatens to tear their marriage - and England apart.

Who is Piers Gaveston - and why is his presence in the king’s court about to plunge England into civil war?

The young queen believes in the love songs of the troubadours and her own exalted destiny - but she finds reality very different. As she grows to a woman in the deadly maelstrom of Edward’s court, she must decide between her husband, her children, even her life - and one breath-taking gamble that will change the course of history.

This is the story of Isabella, the only woman ever to invade England - and win.

My Thoughts:

I knew the basics of Isabella's story, but I'd never read a book about her, and so I was really looking forward to Colin Falconer's new novel about her. The story opens on the eve of twelve-year-old Isabella's wedding to Edward II, a marriage arranged to mend relations between France and England over the contested land of Gascony. Though Isabella is young and harbors romantic dreams of her future, she is, as she frequently reminds the reader, a true daughter of France, who has been shaped by her father's wisdom and austerity, and who has been raised to be a queen. She quickly realizes her new husband, while nice enough, is not the knight in shining armor she envisioned sharing her life with. He is a weak ruler living in the shadow of his father, the mighty Longshanks, easily swayed by his affections for his favorites, and increasingly unpopular with his barons. And he is desperately in love with another man, a fact that torments Isabella.

Though Edward never comes to love Isabella the way she adores him, he does eventually realize the asset he has in her wisdom and diplomacy in political matters, and Isabella finds her star rising with his people as she helps negotiate one truce after another. But as the years go by and Edward begins to neglect his countrymen even more than he does Isabella, and as he allows a new favorite to supplant Isabella not only in his bed but in his council chamber, Isabella begins to wonder if a far different future, one in which she is loved as a woman and respected as a ruler, is within her grasp. And when she has reached the end of her rope, when she is forced to finally face the harsh truth about her husband, her marriage, and the future of England, she leaps past the point of no return by throwing her lot in with the rebel leader Roger Mortimer. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I really enjoyed the first two-thirds of the story, which chronicled the first fifteen years of her marriage and life as Queen of England. The story is fast-paced and full of drama. I couldn't put it down as events merged to lead Isabella on the road to rebellion. But unfortunately, that's where it started to fall apart for me. Isabella is so neglected and later mistreated by her husband that I was rooting for her to finally find the relationship she longed for, but I was disappointed in the result. What should have been fulfilling for her and exciting for the reader was neither. Isabella's relationship with Roger Mortimer is depicted as so single-minded that one wonders why a woman as powerful and respected as Isabella would allow it to continue. And hardly any page time is devoted to Isabella and Mortimer's conquering of England. I realize it was, in reality, a fairly easy victory for them, but after so much lead-up to their rebellion, I was expecting more depiction of it. And after everything Isabella went through, I found her final scene to be surprisingly lacking in emotion, and I did not particularly care for the tone it ended her story on. After that, the epilogue, which subscribes to the controversial revisionist theories surrounding Edward II's demise, seemed out of place.

I was warned that I had accidentally been given a version of the book that had not undergone a final edit, so I tried very hard not to let the abundance of typos, the sudden resurrection of dead people in later scenes, and scenes appearing out of order affect my rating of the story. However, I can't help but think that the final version probably still has some of the issues that gave me pause, such as a lack of indication of the passage of time (on one page Isabella has just given birth to her second child and on the next page she has four or five) and the inconsistencies in characterization.

So what did I like about this book? That's easy: Isabella! I do feel like this is a lighter treatment of her life story--it is only 200 pages and ends long before her life does--but she was a fascinating woman, an empathetic and compelling character, and my appetite for more novels about her has been ignited. And I do think Falconer has painted a fair and realistic portrait of Edward II. Though he makes terrible decisions and is at best an ineffective ruler, he is achingly human and makes the mistake of following his heart to his ruin. This is a lightning-quick read, engaging and entertaining, and as long as the final version of the book being sold to readers has been corrected, I can recommend it to anyone looking for an introduction to this famous "She-wolf" of England.

My Rating:  3.5 Stars out of 5

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Isabella, Braveheart of France?

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This giveaway is open internationally and ends at 11:59pm Sunday, February 9, 2014. Winners will be selected at random. Thanks, and good luck!

Isabella, Braveheart of France is on a blog tour!


  1. It's a tragic story. Would like to read it.

  2. Nice review, Jenny. I also liked this one, mainly because I found Isabella such a fascinating figure. I also read the version that needed additional edits, and like you hope they have been fixed.

  3. This sounds like a really interesting read.
    jmcgaugh (at) semo (dot) edu

  4. I love historical books of any kind!

  5. I'd love to -- Kara shamy at post dot harvard dot edu

  6. Bonjour!

    I am French and, to be perfectly honest, I had never heard of Isabella. I would love to learn more about her.
    Thank you for opening the giveaway internationally!


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