Book Review: Katherine by Anya Seton

Book 95

Katherine

This classic novel tells the most romantic love story in British history – the true tale of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the ancestors of much of the British Royal family.  It is set in the vibrant 14th century England of Chaucer when magnificent pageantry was confronted by the Black Death, when knights went to battle in expensive foreign wars while peasants struggled to survive, and when the magnificent but despotic Plantagenets – Edward III, the Black Prince, and Richard II  – ruled over a court rotten with intrigue.  In this era of dangers and passion, John of Gaunt, the king’s son and the proudest of the Plantagenets, fought for power and fell desperately in love with the already married Katherine. Their well-documented romance persisted through decades of war, adultery, murder, loneliness and redemption.

I am a self-confessed sucker for a love story so this book would have had to be pretty bad for me not to love it.  However this book is so much more than a love story and so much more than a piece of historical fiction as well.  The book spans the life of Katherine Swynford from when she was 15 to just before her death, so as you can imagine there is a lot of storyline packed in there.  I don’t know a lot about 14th century England so all the events could have been made up and I wouldn’t have been any the wiser, but apparently Anya Seton thoroughly researched everything: all the events portrayed happened, the characters all existed and everything was in the correct chronological order.  All Anya Seton did was interpret the various events in her own way and create the dialogue to bring the story to life.  When you read this book it’s hard to believe that this is true, the events of the book  seem so cliché in a way.  But this is a great story and the fact that the relationship between Katherine and John of Gaunt produced many of the future kings and queens of England just adds to the appeal to learn more about this era.

What I liked about this book:  The whole story is so detailed and rich throughout yet it never drags at all.  The descriptions of each scene and the people in them transported me there to medieval England.  Katherine is only 15 at the beginning of the story and her naivety and innocence is portrayed well through the text.  As she grows older you gain a sense of her experience seeping through as her view of the world changes.  A lot happens in the book but I never felt confused and I could always recall what had happened previously whilst I was reading.

What I didn’t like about this book:  My only fault with the book is the language sometimes.  In a way it makes it more authentic using terms from the age, but as these terms are not familiar now and as a lot of them are in French it can at times cause confusion.  Sometimes the characters would speak in French, just a line or two, but there would be no translation so you would have to use the context of the scene to interpret it.  I think this does add to the book, but also takes away a little at the same time.

It is beautifully written and is such a compelling story that you cannot put it down.  I cannot verify how accurate the story is but from what I understand it is as accurate as you can get.  I really enjoyed this book; I had feared that a nearly 600 page book about medieval England would not excite me but I was happily proved wrong.  I would recommend this anyone who loves a good romance but also wants something to sink their teeth into.

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