Book Tour Review: Royal Mistress by Anne Easter Smith

Thursday, June 13, 2013
Title: Royal Mistress
Author: Anne Easter Smith
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 489 (paperback edition)
Published: May 7 2013
Source: book tour for review
Rating: 4/5

From the author of A Rose for the Crown and Daughter of York comes another engrossing historical novel of the York family in the Wars of the Roses, telling the fascinating story of the rise and fall of the final and favorite mistress of Edward IV.

Jane Lambert, the quick-witted and alluring daughter of a silk merchant, is twenty-two and still unmarried. When Jane’s father finally finds her a match, she’s married off to the dull, older silk merchant William Shore—but her heart belongs to another. Marriage doesn’t stop Jane Shore from flirtation, however, and when the king’s chamberlain and friend, Will Hastings, comes to her husband’s shop, Will knows his King will find her irresistible.

Edward IV has everything: power, majestic bearing, superior military leadership, a sensual nature, and charisma. And with Jane as his mistress, he also finds true happiness. But when his hedonistic tendencies get in the way of being the strong leader England needs, his life, as well as that of Jane Shore and Will Hastings, hang in the balance.

This dramatic tale has been an inspiration to poets and playwrights for 500 years, and told through the unique perspective of a woman plucked from obscurity and thrust into a life of notoriety, Royal Mistress is sure to enthrall today’s historical fiction lovers as well.

Royal Mistress was my first introduction to the novels of Anne Easter Smith and it was a pleasure. From an author that clearly knows her history and her characters, this historical fiction features and focuses on one of the many famous mistresses of King Edward IV - Elizabeth "Jane" Shore. Anne Easter Smith has a talent for taking the well-known and familiar and creating a fresh story. With aplomb and subtlety, Smith takes her readers right into the War of the Roses, and turns a close eye in particular  on the struggles between the members of the Yorkist faction - often over this very woman. Her Jane Shore is a smart, capable woman in the midst of one of England's most tumultuous and interesting times. 

Told in third person, the narrative offers a wide and comprehensive view of life, particularly for those in merchant class. Though Jane's status is elevated by her affairs within the nobility, Royal Mistress showcases life in many forms in Edward's England. Unlike many of the women of her time, Jane refuses to bend under the laws and culture that seek to constrain her - true to the historical record known about her, Jane rises above her station through sheer personality, looks, and charm. She is a force to be reckoned with, as her husband comes to realize early on in the novel. Regaled as "the merriest, the wiliest, and the holiest harlots" of Edward's many mistresses, Jane has to contend with disapproving noblewomen, including Edward's own formidable and intelligent wife, Queen Elizabeth. Her struggles in the court, and with her own feelings for the King's own stepson (and her rival's son!) cast Jane in an unlikely and unenviable place. She may have the eye of the King, but it is the heart of the Marquess of Dorset she truly wants.

The characters in Royal Mistress have a lot of life right from the start. They come alive on the page, and their interactions are authentic, and engaging from beginning to end - even the less likeable ones. The more sympathetic outlook on Edward's younger brother, the future King Richard III is also fairly unique. He is more often a pure villain with his eyes on his nephew's throne than a misunderstood character, but Smith makes it thoroughly palatable to see him in a more favorable light. Though some characters herein are more rounded than others, this is an impressive and well-drawn cast. The War of the Roses, and the principal players in that civil war have been chronicled and covered many times over in the historical fiction genre, and it is down to the talent and knowledge of the author that Royal Mistress never flags nor seems like a rehash of an earlier novel.

It is apparent that hours and hours of research went into the creation of this fiction-based-on-fact. Royal Mistress is obviously full of detail across the board; from clothing to court, everything feels right. It is an atmospheric read without overdoing it. It's remarkably easy to slip into this story and the lives of these fascinating people. The novel is vivid and interesting, able to keep readers on their toes as Jane learns to navigate court life and come to grips with how she feels. The highlight for me during my not-long-enough read was the depiction of both the main character and that of Richard. Jane may overromanticise her relationship with Thomas Grey but it is easy to commiserate with her as she learns that favor may matter more than love ever did.

Anne Easter Smith is a popular and well-known author in historical fiction for a reason. Her novels keep the storylines fresh, the characters vibrant, and the setting interesting. Royal Mistress was a great start to what is sure to be a long and fulfilling relationship with this author. I was impressed and engaged with Jane's story from the very first. If it felt a little long at times, well it was just more opportunities to sink into a richly created version of the life of one of England's most notorious women.

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