Review: Katherine by Anya Seton

Saturday, June 3

My rating:
4 Stars…& 1/2 stars
Quote…I've come for you, Katrine"

What I loved:

This whole, magnificent epic is based on a true story. Either Katherine Swynford, her beloved John of Gaunt, or both (because she gave him 4 - 4 - kids as his mistress), gave rise to the royal lines that include Kings Henry IV, V, VI & VII, Richard III, Edward IV, a Queen of Scots, every sovereign of Scotland since ages ago (sorry, my google is down or I'd sound way smarter right now) and every sovereign of England in the last 400 years. Meanwhile, my branch of our family tree includes an overweight cat.

The storytelling. This isn't the kind of romance I normally read. Like, it's not the kind of romance where it's all about the couple, all the time, and I start to get pissy if they're apart for too much of the book. It's a romance in the way Gone With the Wind is a romance - there's a beautiful thread of love and loyalty and connection that weaves it's way through 30 years, but most of what happens on the page sees our couple separated. We've got crazy mothers-in-law, sniping sisters, arranged marriages, lots of babies being born, strained relationships between a mother and a daughter, Katherine coping with being gasp - the other woman, gossip, rioting, plague, wars, and royal dramas. There was a lot going on.

And Geoffrey Chaucer was in it. He's super smart.
Quote…Women desire six things: They want their husbands to be brave, wise, rich, generous, obedient to wife, and lively in bed.
- Geoffrey Chaucer (not a quote from Katherine)
Katherine. I really admired her resilience. When we first meet her she's a naive, wide eyed young girl with dreams and ambitions and very little idea of the world. Over time, her shine wears off but her character grows and we get to grow along with her. She suffered a lot through her time with Hugh, but she bore the burden graciously and I loved, loved, loved that she carried herself with integrity throughout her marriage. And she was funny! I didn't expect a 14th century real life person to be funny, but she was a quirky little thing.

The Duke of Lancaster. Yum. He was everything I imagine when I read regency romances - heroic, strong, practical, protective, cold, brave. And we saw a different side of him when he and Katherine were alone - he was actually the more sweet and loving one of them when they were alone - but I think at the end of the day he was a knight, through and through. Everything he did was for the betterment of his line, his family, and his king, but I never doubted that he loved Katherine.
Quote…Perhaps there might not be included in his epitaph the one tribute to his knighthood that he knew he deserved: 'Il fut toujours bon et loyal chevalier.' (loosely translated: he was always a good and loyal knight)
But whatever the shadowed years might bring, as long as life should last, he knew that he had here at his side one sure recompense and one abiding loyalty.
All the peripheral characters. I didn't like them all, but Ms Seton's writing bought them all to life in a way that I was interested in them all. And, ok, was Nirac gay? I feel like he was, but then I thought maybe I'm projecting because I read too much M/M romance. But was he?

The insight into 14th century life.

Things like Constanza rejecting her physical body to embrace godliness. Which, ew, by the way. Blanche's birth. Water elf sickness. How they treated legit medical conditions.


What I didn’t love:

Ok, here's why it's not a full 5 star read for me. The religion side of this, while I learned a lot from it, bordered on fantasy for me. I could literally feel myself tuning out when Katherine was paying penance, and through every reference to God. There was a lot of that, for me.

And also, you just know, even before she admitted to it, that had Blanche not (view spoiler), Katherine would have carried on (view spoiler) I just felt that the whole phase was unnecessary. But it was a small thing.

The Afterword. I felt like that 1 page could have been a whole other book? Or even just more chapters? Is it just me? All the time had been taken to weave a gorgeous, multifaceted story, and days of my life were spent enthralled in this other world, and then suddenly it was like and then this key character died and Katherine's kid got shafted and then this other key character died because good job, and then here's how all these people tied into it, The End. I wasn't ready!



Ok, so I didn't love every page, but the story was rich and layered and colourful, divine in the development of it's characters, and heartbreaking because these people all existed, and I'm having a hard time letting it go. I finished this book on Thursday (so, 4 days ago) and I haven't been more than 2 chapters into any other book since.

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