Friday, 17 June 2016

Isabella of Angouleme by Erica Laine
Series:  The Tangled Queen Part 1
Release Date:  October 2015
Publisher: Silverwood Books
Genres:  Historical Fiction

Set in the thirteenth century, the kingdoms of England and France are struggling over territory as the powerful Angevins threaten the French king. In regions far from Paris local fiefdoms disregard all authority.
The Tangled Queen is the story of the little known and very young Isabella of Angoulême who was abducted by King John in 1200. She became his second wife and queen consort, aged 12. He was the most reviled king in English history and his lust for her led to the loss of Normandy and the destruction of the Plantagenet Empire, which then brought about the Magna Carta.
Isabella came of age in England, but was denied her place in court. Her story is full of thwarted ambition, passion, pride and cruelty. She longed for power of her own and returned to France after the death of John to live a life of treachery and intrigue…

Excerpt from Isabella of Angoulême: The Tangled Queen Part 1.
 Isabella smiled and yawned – it was time these chattering girls left. She dismissed them, haughty and impatient. Away they sped, some calling back to Isabella, jokes and remarks full of innuendo for her future. She frowned; this was not the way to treat a future queen.
‘Agnes, help prepare me for bed.’
Agnes closed the chamber door, unlacing the back of Isabella’s dress, folding the glorious red and gold silk into the large chest. Tomorrow Isabella would wear the blue gown, the splendid blue and silver fabric showing wealth and also loyalty. If red and gold had shown the power and wealth of the Taillefers, then the blue would mark their obedience and fealty.
Early the next morning Agnes was busy preparing a scented bath. Precious rose oil, drop by drop, turned the hot water cloudy. And then she was busy mixing the rosemary wash for Isabella’s hair. She would wear her hair loose today, and her small gold guirland.
Isabella woke up and saw Agnes looking at her, long and thoughtful, ready to make her stir, but she was already throwing back the covers and standing and stretching. Agnes nodded and together they moved to the bath, and Isabella slipped into the milky, perfumed water and rubbed the rosemary wash into her hair. She felt the water running down her back and shivered. Then she was being briskly dried by Agnes, who was determined to treat Isabella to the most thorough of preparations.
Her mother Alice entered the room and the three of them unfolded the wedding gown and dressed Isabella. Her chemise was soft and light, the dress heavy and cumbersome. Arranged within it, held within it as if caged, her face pale but proud, she moved to the window and looked down onto a courtyard full of people, horses, carts and wagons. A procession was moving through the crowd, with a stately canon and an even more stately bishop in the centre. The clergy were intent on their walk to the cathedral. Isabella clutched Agnes in a sudden fear. Then she rested her head on the window and took a deep breath. It was her wedding day.

From the outset it was very clear to see the amount of research that Erica Laine must have had to have undertaken to write this book. I imagine it was a massive task in itself. Being only a recent convert to historical fiction, I often worry that the content of such books will be dry and boring. Not so here with Isabella of Anglouleme. Yes there are a wealth of characters to get to know but I found each of them incredibly interesting. The book is set in the early 1200's at a time when status and land were the two important indicators of power and wealth. Whilst Isabella is an instantly unlikable character initially, it was important to put things into context. Yes she was someone of significant importance but ultimately, when we are introduced to her is a 12 year old child betrothed to Hugh, someone older but of some significant standing.  Her future, which seemed pretty much laid out for her, and the thought of marrying Hugh, which seemed to bore her somewhat, takes a new direction when she is noticed by King John who wants Isabella to himself. Soon the prospect of marrying Hugh against marrying a King and all that status and wealth such a match would bring turns her head completely.

The book details Isabella's life with the King but becoming his wife certainly doesn't live up to her expectations. King John is not an honourable or kind man. He is in fact a lecherous tyrant and Isabella does not have any of the power she dreamed such a marriage would bring, despite bearing John children. Isabella is lonely and frustrated and hating her life in England, she longs to return to France. This was such an interesting book and was certainly jam packed with lots of historical facts and once again piqued my interest in history and had me scurrying to google to look things up! I love it when a book has me that interested! I really look forward to part 2 to find out more about Isabella and her life. Erica Laine's writing style is one that flows easily, keeping the reader interested and enthralled and I actually ended up reading a bit of the book out to my writing class due to the imagery the scene portrayed to me. (A description of the tapestries Isabella touches). I thought it was beautiful! A fantastic piece of writing and a must read for fans of historical fiction that is well thought out and well researched. 

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I was  born in 1943 in Southampton and originally studied for the theatre.  I moved with my family to Hong Kong in 1977 and worked and lived there for 20 years, writing English language textbooks for Chinese primary schools and managing large educational projects for the British Council.
Since living in S W France I have been very involved with a local history society and have researched many topics, the history of gardens and fashion being favourites.
Isabella of Angoulême began in 2011 at a writing workshop run by Philippa Pride, the Book Doctor.  The story of this young queen was fascinating and although she appears as a character in some other historical novels I wanted to concentrate on her entire life and her importance to the English and the French and the role she played in the politics of power. Part Two is being written now and my head is more or less permanently in the thirteenth century.



One Response so far.

  1. Unknown says:

    Thank you for reading and writing the review. I was thrilled to read it.

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