Thursday, January 29, 2015

Review: Royal Mistress

Anne Easter Smith

Royal Mistress

By Anne Easter Smith
Touchstone, May 2013

About the Book

Jane Lambert, the quick-witted and alluring daughter of a silk merchant, is twenty-two and still unmarried. When Jane’s father finally finds her a match, she’s married off to the dull, older silk merchant William Shore. Marriage doesn’t stop Jane from flirtation, however, and when the king’s chamberlain, Will Hastings, comes to her husband’s shop, Will knows King Edward will find her irresistible.

Edward IV has everything: power, majestic bearing, superior military leadership, a sensual nature, and charisma. And with Jane as his mistress, he also finds true happiness. But when his hedonistic tendencies get in the way of being the strong leader England needs, his life, as well as those of Jane and Will Hastings, hangs in the balance. Jane must rely on her talents to survive as the new monarch, Richard III, bent on reforming his brother’s licentious court, ascends the throne.

My Review

Ms. Smith provides an interesting look into the what ifs of Jane’s life, filling in some of the holes in her tale. The dialogue feels stilted at times, especially when listening to the audio version, and there are many POV jumps, even into the heads of minor characters, which make the story feel off balance. It also wasn’t apparent to me what exactly made Jane so alluring. Her beauty is mentioned many times, but surely beauty alone couldn’t ensnare so many powerful lords. Here Jane is prone to comic verse, which hints at her intelligence, but instead feels a bit contrived. So readers are left rather puzzled about what makes her so bewitching.

I did like how Ms. Smith addressed Richard’s shifting morality as he took the throne. There are several references to Richard’s illegitimate children in various novels, but this is the first place I have seen Richard’s mistress named: Kate Haute. It gives Jane’s condemnation by Richard an entirely fresh perspective and makes Richard a more conflicted, flawed character.

Ms. Smith also does an excellent job of telling this well-known tale from the commoners’ POV. Many, many books address these historical events through the eyes of Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort, Buckingham, and even Richard himself, but rarely do you get a glimpse of what the common people of the time thought of what was going on behind palace gates. The gossip, the innuendo, the speculation—all of it serves as a reminder that this must have been a daunting series of events for the common folk, who were no more than spectators as the powerful squared off.

An interesting, if uneven, portrait of a royal mistress.

Rebecca Henderson Palmer

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