Thursday, September 9, 2010


Katherine by Anya Seton is the story of the love between Katherine Swinford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster in the 14th C. A love that faces much hardship and heartache, misunderstandings and misadventures before the standard fairy tale, "happily ever after" ending....well happily for three years, anyway.

Let me just start by saying I'm no medievalist. I've never been real in love with the time period and so getting me to read this sort of historical novel is a bit of a hard-sell. But my current boss and friend is a medievalist and assured me that I would love this book. That this was the book that made her certain that she wanted to be a medievalist. Well....I can't say that I'm trading in my Victorianist leanings, but this is a grand book. Seton swept me right into the middle ages with nary a backward glance. Her opening descriptions and fluid prose held me captive until, before I knew it I was 100 pages in and in the palm of her hand. Katherine is a very vibrant character and the reader is rooting for her right from the start.

I found myself wanting to know what life at court was like. And enjoying learning about all the intrigues and manners...the "dos and don'ts" of knights and squires and ladies and dukes. Seton does not disappoint. She manages to explain all of this in brilliant prose without ever sounding like she's teaching.

Of course, the main concern of the story is the passion between the Duke and Katherine. A love that is forbidden--not only because they each are married, but also because of the difference in rank. The Duke must marry two highborn ladies to fulfill his courtly obligations before he can truly have his Katherine and it is with relief that the reader finds him at the end "for what time was left, [pleasing] his heart at last." Modern readers will wonder why he didn't do so earlier, but as is made clear in the story--that simply wasn't done then.

Overall, it is the historical novel at its very best. Seton takes the bare bones of historical fact (and the facts of Katherine's life and relationship with the Duke are pretty scanty) and expands it without seeming to fabricate. Her interpretation of the characters and motivations ring true and make the reader really care about what happens. If only the story had not flagged a bit in the middle...during the off and on separation between Katherine and her Duke...then I would have given it a full four stars. As it is...three and a half stars out of five on Visual Bookshelf.


Patricia Ingham said...


Katie L. said...

Bev, I've been looking for a new-to-me book to read (I've been rereading lately, including David Copperfield--holla to my fellow Victorianist!), and you've convinced me to try this one! Thanks!