04 August, 2007

New Novels of Edward II

Three new novels of Edward II to tell you about:

Brandy Purdy's The Confession of Piers Gaveston has just been published by iUniverse. I'm still waiting for my copy, but Susan liked it, and as we have very similar taste in novels, I'm sure I will too.

Synopsis:
The history books tell us that Piers Gaveston was many things: arrogant, ambitious, avaricious, flamboyant, extravagant, reckless, brave, and daring, indiscreet, handsome, witty, vivacious, vain, and peacock-proud, a soldier and champion jouster, the son of a condemned witch, who used witchcraft, his own wicked wiles, and forbidden sex to entice and enslave King Edward II, alienate him from his nobles and advisors, and keep him from the bed of his beautiful bride Isabelle. Edward's infatuation with Gaveston, and the deluge of riches he showered on him, nearly plunged England into civil war.

Now the object of that scandalous and legendary obsession tells his side of the story in The Confession of Piers Gaveston: "Mayhap even now, when I have only just begun, it is already too late to set the story straight. My infamy, I fear, is too well entrenched. Whenever they tell the story of Edward's reign I will always be the villain and Edward, the poor, weak-willed, pliant king who fell under my spell, the golden victim of a dark enchantment. There are two sides to every coin; but when the bards and chroniclers, the men who write the histories, tell this story, will anyone remember that?

Paul Doherty's The Poison Maiden, the second in his Mathilde of Westminster series, following The Cup of Ghosts, is due out in a few days, in both the UK and the US.

Synopsis from Amazon:
1308: murder and mayhem are rife in the court of Edward II. The 'Poison Maiden' is rumoured to have arrived in England forcing Mathilde of Westminster to face her most dangerous opponent yet. England hovers on the brink of civil war. Edward II, his wife Isabella and the royal favourite Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall, have been forced to retreat to the King's 'folly', as just an arrowshot away lie the Great Lords and Philip IV of France. They demand the King surrender Cornwall, so they can charge him with high treason. Edward is trapped, and worse, he has learnt that Philip has the 'Poison Maiden' on his side, a formidable spy who did untold damage during his father's reign. As Edward tries in vain to unmask the identity of the spy, Mathilde, handmaiden to the Queen, is called upon to assistance the King in his endeavours. Soon the crisis spills over into violence. The Lords attempt to take Cornwall by force and the King and his Court, including Mathilde, are forced to flee. As the enemy closes in, Mathilde finds herself embroiled not only in a brutal struggle for the English crown, but also for her own life.

I enjoyed Cup of Ghosts, which is narrated by Mathilde, attendant of Queen Isabella and future physician, in the first person, and set around the time that Edward II married Isabella. It has lovely sympathetic portrayals of Edward II, Isabella and Piers Gaveston, which you rarely see, and a very unusual and fascinating depiction of Edward II's treatment of Isabella in the first few months of their marriage. I'm really looking forward to getting Poison Maiden.

EDIT: Poison Maiden has just arrived. It doesn't look very impressive when there are two historical errors on the very first page, in the list of characters. Eleanor of Castile died in 1290, not 1296. And the Earl of Hereford in Edward II's reign was not Henry de Bohun, but Humphrey. Then on the second page of the Prologue, Doherty repeats, YET AGAIN, the old myth that Isabella was buried next to "her great love" Roger Mortimer in the Greyfriars church in London. Mortimer was actually buried at the Greyfriars in Coventry. And in his author's note, Doherty says that Edward I and Marguerite of France had four children - in fact, they had three.

*Sigh*. I've only looked at a handful of pages, and that's four mistakes already. I'd really expect better from a man with a doctorate from Oxford on Queen Isabella, and I hope the rest of the novel is more historically accurate.

Last but definitely not least, Michael Jecks' Dispensation of Death came out on 14 June in the UK, and is due out on 28 September in the US. It's the twenty-third in his popular Knights Templar mystery series, which are set in Edward II's reign. This one takes place in January and February 1325, and a damn fine novel it is, too.

The turmoil of Edward's reign, and important events such as Roger Mortimer's escape from the Tower and the execution of Thomas of Lancaster, have been a common background motif of the whole series, but this is the first one where Edward II, Isabella, Hugh Despenser and Eleanor de Clare appear in person. As always when I pick up an Edward II novel, I was a bit apprehensive in case I got the common 'Edward the shrieking effeminate feeble nancy-boy' depiction. But my fears were groundless. Edward is far more sympathetically portrayed than I'd expected, being tall, strong, handsome, virile, and "the epitome of a noble English knight. No one was better-looking than King Edward II..." Even his illegitimate son Adam gets a mention.

Isabella's victimhood is overdone, but then it always is these days, and Hugh Despenser is magnificently appalling. It's a great depiction of a man at the height of his ill-gotten power, with hired assassins and the ability to casually crush anyone he feels like (let's just say that an inn-keeper who does something that Hugh doesn't like really has cause to regret it).

The setting is very well done, too. Most of the novel is set at Westminster Palace, and the sprawling chaos of the place gives a strong feeling of menace. There are some nicely chosen details, which helped me visualise the scene, such as Hugh Despenser and his wife Eleanor de Clare trying to hold a conversation over the terrific din in Westminster Hall, where Chancery, King's Bench and the Court of Common Pleas are in session, and Edward's herald slamming his staff on the ground to announce the King's arrival, whereupon everyone falls to their knees.

I really enjoyed the mystery, which kept me guessing all the way through. There's a great twist at the end, which I hadn't expected at all.

There are some minor historical inaccuracies, but nothing too bad, and certainly nothing that came close to ruining my enjoyment of the novel. Hugh Despenser is described as a mere knight, son of a 'brain-addled knight', which isn't true - his maternal grandparents were Earl and Countess of Warwick, and his paternal grandmother was Countess of Norfolk. And Edward's half-brother the Earl of Kent was in Gascony in early 1325, not England. But I'm not complaining about that, as Kent is important for the plot, and besides, it's always nice to see him in an Edward II novel. Usually, he never appears before 1330.

Dispensation of Death is a real page-turner, and I stayed up late at night reading it. It's an intriguing mystery, and a convincing depiction of power politics, with plots and counter-plots and counter-counter-plots. A great read, and definitely recommended.

17 comments:

Susan Higginbotham said...

This is shaping up to be a good Edward II summer, bookwise!

Alianore said...

It really is, isn't it? Now if only Seymour Phillips would hurry up with the biography of Edward he's supposed to be writing...

Susan Higginbotham said...

Yeah! WE WANT A BIO! (Think he heard us?)

Alianore said...

"HEY, DR PHILLIPS!! GIVE US THE BIOGRAPHY NOWWWWWWW!!!"

There! He must have heard that. ;)

Gabriele C. said...

*giggles*

Carla said...

Maybe the pendulum's starting to swing back the other way to a sympathetic Edward II - ISTR I theorised that it would when enough people had got sufficiently bored with the nancy-boy image :-) I'll keep an eye out for these next time I'm in the market for a historical mystery.

Kate Plantaganet said...

Thanks Alianore, I was on the hunt for something to read since I finished Harry Potter 7 *sighs sadly*. The 'sequel' to Pride and Prejudice I am reading at the moment is....um....interesting! Fruity would be the word to describe it.

Perhaps your writing/blog/research/website has been part of a wave of new understanding of EdII. Terrific.

Happy reading everyone.

Alianore said...

Carla: I hope you're right - I'd love to see a few more sympathetic depictions of Ed! ;)

Kate: I'm feeling HP-deprived, too. :( I'd love to think that my blog has helped a few people to view Ed in a more positive light - I'm not sure, though!

Gabriele C. said...

Maybe the increasing tolerance towards homo- and bisexuality helps a bit as well.

Except in the mind of a certain lady I won't mention here. ;)

Alianore said...

Gabriele: good point, and all the Ed II novels I've read recently, except the one in question, have been extremely tolerant of his sexuality.

I think calling the woman you're talking about 'a lady' is nicer than she deserves...;)

Susan Higginbotham said...

Shame about the Doherty! I think the man needs to slow down a bit in the novel output department. I remember in The Love Knot, the novel he wrote as Vanessa Alexander, he annoyed me because he gave Joan of Acre and Gilbert de Clare only three children instead of four . . .

Susan Higginbotham said...

(Maybe that's where the extra child given to Edward I came from--he gave him one of Joan of Acre's!)

Alianore said...

Funny you should mention The Love Knot, Susan - I had exactly the same thought! So that's where Elizabeth de Clare went...she was Edward I's daughter, not granddaughter! How silly of us all not to notice before! :)

...And I've just noticed that the 'Postscript' of Love Knot states that Joan of Acre and Ralph de Monthermer had two sons and one daughter. *Bangs head on table*. Wonder if it's Joan or Mary that he's ignoring? Dearie me, Doherty's not very good at this.

Kate Plantaganet said...

*loud laughter*

You girls crack me up. Poor Doherty. He is toast!

Alianore said...

Oh dear. ;) To be fair, I did enjoy his last Edward II novel (Cup of Ghosts) very much, and it's a lot more accurate than this one seems to be. But I've been re-reading his Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II recently, and I've been stunned anew by all the errors in it. Not just historical errors, though goodness knows there are plenty of those, but things that the editor should have caught. Like, getting Margaret de Clare's name wrong ("Joan of Gloucester") 11 pages after getting it right, changing Isabella's date of birth at least three times, and saying (correctly) in one sentence that custody of Ed II was transferred to Berkeley and Maltravers on 3 April 1327. The very next sentence then says that they "secured the deposed King in the last week of March"!!

Susan Higginbotham said...

Or maybe all of these extra kids went to Isabella and Edward II. That would prevent them from ever having to sleep together, which would fit some novelists' conception of their marriage very nicely . . .

Anerje said...

I've just finished 'The Confession of Piers Gaveston', and whilst it started promisingly, it soon deterioated, IMO. I left my comments in Piers thread at Alianore's excellent Edward II forum.