Review: The Forbidden Queen by Anne O'Brien

Thursday, January 9, 2014
Title: The Forbidden Queen
Author: Anne O'Brien
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 496
Published: expected January 28 2014
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

1415. The Battle of Agincourt is over, and the young princess Katherine de Valois is the prize to be offered to Henry V of England. The innocent Katherine is smitten with Henry, but soon understands that her sole purpose is to produce an heir to unite England and France. When Henry leaves her a widow at the age of 21, Katherine is forced to resign herself to a quiet life as the Dowager Queen; her duty is to raise her son, the young King of England, and little more.

But Katherine is still young and passionate. Many desire her, and her hand in marriage is worth a kingdom. Setting aside those driven by ambition, Katherine falls in love with her servant Owen Tudor, and glimpses the happiness that love can bring. But their enemies are circling, all battling for power and determined to prevent their marriage. Katherine will have to fight to control her own destiny…

In this compelling and beautifully written book, Anne O’Brien tells the story of the innocent young princess, Katherine de Valois, a pawn in a ruthless political game between England and France, and the woman who founded the most famous royal dynasty of all – the Tudors.

Despite the vast amounts of Tudor fiction that I have read over the years, I've yet to read one that chose to feature on the dynasty's founder --- Katherine of Valois, daughter of Charles VI of France and his wife Queen Isabeau of Bavaria. Anne O'Brien's The Forbidden Queen focuses on the short-lived and one-time English Queen and depicts her life as the fascinating, determined woman she was. Though her life is not as well-known or oft-portrayed as her later and more infamous descendants, Katherine's story is just as interesting and tumultuous as those who came later. This is my first introduction to the historical fiction of Anne O'Brien and she acquitted herself admirably with The Forbidden Queen.

There is not a lot of concrete information about Katherine of Valois, so O'Brien had plenty of wiggle room for her version of this story. Using the bare knowledge available about Henry V's wife, the author creates an entirely plausible and compelling version of the life Katherine could have led. From a deprived and ignored childhood to being married for her name only, the thing this Valois princess wants most of all is the thing she had never been given: love. From her parents to her husband to her love affairs, Katherine was constantly seeking security and affection. Her position was never entirely secure -- as an unwanted princess to an unimportant wife -- it's so easy to understand when Katherine gives up on conventional methods and does what she sees fit.

As the French wife of the man who defeated the French at Agincourt, Katherine lives in hostility in both her native France and her adopted England. No matter what she does, she never gains the love she so desperately wants -- either from her husband or her countrymen. As she leaarns to guard her heart and take care of herself, Katherine emerges as a fighter and a force to be reckoned with in the patriarchal world she lives in. She's a fascinating woman and that O'Brien chooses to show her as more than a victim is commendable and appreciated. Her story may be largely unknown, but this strong woman was a wife of the Plantagenet dynasty and went on to found a dynasty that supplanted the Yorkish kings. She is more than worth a second glance.

The Forbidden Queen chronicles a wide spread of time and a lot of story. At nearly 500 pages, it's a long, involved and complicated tale. Katherine's life was difficult and unprecedented for her gender, but the requisite court intrigues and scandals are covered. When, as Dowager Queen and Queen Mother, she marries her Master of Household, a Welshman on top of everything, it marks the beginning of when Katherine truly comes into her own. Instead of waiting for happiness, Katherine takes it for herself. No longer passive, but a proactive and determined character with agency. Of course it is not without further repercussions, but from that point on, Queen Kat is her own woman, instead of a Queen or a Queen Mother.

Though the story might feel a tad stretched, The Forbidden Queen is the best kind of historical fiction. There is an obvious passion for history and the historical figures from that time, and Katherine's story is relatively uncovered in the genre. The freshness of the characters and their plot, O'Brien's deft writing -- it all adds up to a great, atmospheric historical read.


  1. This sounds pretty interesting. I have to admit that I don't read a lot of historical fiction and am not at all familiar with Katherine of Valois. My knowledge of the Tudors definitely starts with Henry VIII. I'm glad you enjoyed this one. It is always nice when you can see the love of the history an author displays through her work. Great review!

    1. It's really good. And Katherine is a pretty unknown and unwritten figure, so it's easy to distinguish her from other popular historical fiction.

      And thank you!

  2. This is an interesting twist from the typical "Henry VIII and all the women he screwed." I don't know much about the origination of the Tudors so on the list it goes!

    1. Yes, Bonnie, it is. And if you're looking for a detailed hist fic, I would recommend this. And it's not KH8! Cheers!

    2. This one sounds like one I need to read. Thanks for the review.


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