Book Review: Anya Seton’s Katherine

51GYRXB2YML._SL160_Though this book was written many years ago, age has not dimmed its freshness nor blemished the rigorous scholarship that Anya Seton employed to write this book. It is the story of an orphaned fifteen-year-old girl who has spent the last four years in an impoverished convent on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, and has now been summoned to court by the Queen with a view to finding a suitable husband.

So begins the story of Katrine de Roet – Lady Katherine Swynford – sister-in-law to Geoffrey Chaucer, wife to John of Gaunt Duke of Lancaster, and great-grandmother to King Richard III.   Like all great novels, this one gives us the feeling that we are with Katherine as she experiences life in England between the year 1366 when the story opens, to 1396 when she marries John of Gaunt.

Ms. Seton gives us a vivid feel of late fourteenth century England though a brilliant use of detail.  The first memorable incident occurs when the Queen’s messenger tries to make Katherine smile, so that he can see if she has good teeth.  This may seem trivial, but it is through such an accrual of detail that believable historical novels are built. Then there is the first time Katherine dines at court.  As a poor young woman with no dowry, she is placed near the door to the hall with all the humble folk. She is clad in an ill-fitting gown she has had to borrow from someone else. The feast is magnificent and unlike anything she has yet seen, but she cannot eat, for when she raises her head to look at the high table, there are the Plantagenets:  the King, his sons and daughters, garbed in the finest cloths, bedecked with jewels and wearing gold coronets on their heads.  “Yes they are real,” says an amused Geoffrey Chaucer as he watches Katherine gape.  And then he tells her all about them, a deft way for an author to give the reader a vivid introduction to the English court in 1356.

The best recommendation I can give for this book is that every time I open it up to refresh my memory to write this review, I can’t put it down!  If you know of someone young or old who loves reading historical novels and has not yet read this one, buy it for them now!  It would make the perfect gift.
–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry.  During the day, she is a medical writer and owns her own business.  For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories.  For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts.  (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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