Monday, December 9, 2013

Book Review - Isabella: Braveheart of France by Colin Falconer


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.

In the tradition of Philippa Gregory and Elizabeth Chadwick, ISABELLA is thoroughly researched and fast paced, the little known story of the one invasion the English never talk about.

Cool Gus Publishing | September 12, 2013 | 218 pages (print)

My Review

Isabella of France, Queen consort of English King Edward II, is best known for her affair with English baron Roger Mortimer and, with Mortimer's help, for ousting Edward II from the throne.   Although early to mid-14th century England is not a period in which I'm overly familiar, I've read enough works featuring Edward II to have an understanding of the basic facts, and to know that Isabella, sometimes referred to as the She-Wolf of France, is not well regarded by history.  As such, I gladly accepted the opportunity to review Colin Falconer's latest work of historical fiction, Isabella: Braveheart of France, which chronicles Isabella's life from her final days as a young girl in France to the overthrow and imprisonment of her husband.  

Falconer's novel, at least in the early pages, presents Isabella as a sympathetic figure.  Married to Edward II at the age of 12, Isabella wants nothing more than to love her husband and be loved by him in return.   But Edward already has a favourite, Piers Gaveston, a man detested by England's barons.   Despite not having Edward's heart, Isabella keeps faith with her husband and, using the training in the art of politics provided by her father - French King Philip IV - continues to offer her support in his rule of England.  When Gaveston is killed Edward is devastated, but Isabella sees it as an opportunity to win her husband back to her side.  Her hopes are short-lived, however, when a new favourite - Hugh le Despenser - takes Gaveston's place.  While Isabella had come to accept Gaveston being a part Edward's life, she despises Hugh le Despenser as much as Edward's barons do.  Ultimately it is Despenser's hold over Edward and the King's failure to take heed of the advice of both Isabella and his barons that compels Isabella, who has begun her affair with Roger Mortimer, to rebel.   It is also at this point of the novel where my sympathies for Isabella began to wane, as I felt she allowed Mortimer far too much influence over her decisions.  

Overall, Isabella: Braveheart of France is good book.  I think Falconer does a nice job of showcasing Isabella's struggles to make her marriage work and to fulfill her duties as Queen consort.  While I didn't always agree with Isabella's decisions, especially those made later in Edward II's reign, Falconer was able to make me understand her reasons for taking them.  I also liked Falconer's portrayal of Edward II who, although clearly not cut out for kingship, was steadfastly loyal to the few people he trusted.  While Isabella is the novel's principal protagonist, the reader is exposed to enough of Edward to garner an appreciation for why his barons took such issue with his rule.  Even though I liked the book overall, I nevertheless did have a few issues minor issues with the story.  The quick pace of the book makes it an easy read, but I found some events were covered a little too quickly.   This ties into my next issue, which is that novel introduces a number of different barons without providing an adequate explanation of who they are or how they fit into the story.  Given that it is Isabella and the barons who ultimately bring Edward II down, additional explanation as to who's who and the source of their grievances against Edward would have been helpful.  In the end, however, the novel's strengths outweighed the few issues I had with it and for this reason I found it a satisfying read.  While Colin Falconer has written a number of works of historical fiction, Isabella: Braveheart of France is the first of his works I've read and it won't be the last. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

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