Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Book Review - Shadow King by Claude Du Grivel

I'm not in the mood for serious blogging at the moment, but as I feel the need for a break from writing* I thought I'd do a quick book review. It's a novel that relates to the era of Henry VI.

(*Yay! It is happening, but right now I find that turning out a page of fiction about old Warwick is taking a day's worth of sweat out of me.)

Shadow King by Claude Du Grivel is one of the first historical novels I read. It was published in 1952 and I found it in the library about 20 years later. (In those days libraries had more room for books and didn't suffer from the current neophilia where anything over 2 years old is regarded as an ancient manuscript and sold off for 10p.)

You may have problems getting hold of the novel - my copy came from Australia, complete with the rather cool jacket cover. Yes, I know it's dreadfully old-fashioned, but at least it gives you some idea of what the book is about, more than the current crop of headless women do. Moreover the artist actually bothered to look at some costume books for the era!

Anyway, Shadow King is about Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester, and her downfall. Much of the story is set among the citizens of London, and what provides the link is that an unfortunate girl, Roseann Fauster, is conscripted into the Duchess's household to make headdresses for her. Roseann's home life is pretty awful, and when she gets to court she finds that life there is even worse.

There are several historical errors. For example, Bedford appears, when he was in fact long dead, and Margaret of Anjou arrives to marry Henry VI several years before she actually did. Like Shakespeare, Du Grivel couldn't resist bringing her and Eleanor Cobham together.

Yet despite these errors - and the fact that at times it steers a bit close to melodrama - the novel has something about it - it entertains and is full of incident, with a really surprising plot twist. Well worth reading if you're able to find a copy.

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