Friday, September 30, 2011

Review of Isabeau by N. Gemini Sasson

I finished Isabeau by N. Gemini Sasson a couple of days ago and enjoyed it very much. It is well-researched and the writing is excellent. Sasson does a very good job of plopping the reader down in England at the beginning of the 1300s. And she chose a fascinating historical story to tell, that of Queen Isabella and her loved Sir Roger Mortimer.

That Isabella, daughter of the King of France, was married at the age of 13 was only to be expected. That was the fate of a royal daughter. However, her new husband, England's King Edward II, was deeply in love with Piers Gaveston and had no interest in her except for an alliance with France and the heir she would eventually produce.

However, Gaveston was hated by the English nobility and eventually executed by them. Edward was devastated. He eventually turned to Hugh de Despenser. Isolated and lonely, Isabella began an affair with Roger Mortimer that would rock the kingdom.

I enjoyed Sasson's characterization of Isabella and Mortimer. She gave them plenty of depth, showing Isabella at different times as a vulnerable girl, a loving mother and a proud queen. She showed the many sides of Mortimer as a hardened soldier and a tender lover who, none the less, had problems dealing with the strength of the woman he loved. I liked that she did not portray Isabella, as she so often is, as the “She-Wolf of France” or Mortimer as a murderous villain as is so often the case.

It is a complex novel that keeps a fast pace as it goes from court scene to battle to family scenes. It speeds from treacherous nobles to loving loyalty, from dungeon to palace. It definitely does not allow you to lose interest.

Where I did feel that she let the reader down was in the portrayal of Edward II. He was a much more complex man than I felt Sasson portrayed him as, a man who loved music and plays, yet had to be dragged from the battlefield when the English lost at Bannockburn, who was the highest rank in the land and yet loved rowing and fishing and whose friends were often commoners. He was generous with his friends, and if overly so there are worse faults. It would have increased the depth of the work if she had rejected the historical calumny of Edward as she did of Isabella and Mortimer.

That would have made her story stronger, but it is extremely good as it is. Sasson knows the world of early 14th century England so well that she does make you feel that you're there. You come to sympathize and hope for good things for Isabella and Mortimer in spite of their mistakes, and she ends the novel on a note of hope and possibility.

I recommend Isabeau highly to any historical fiction fan. It is a marvellous read. It is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.

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