I started and discarded two books earlier this week. The First Princess of Wales by Karen Harper had a Mary Sue heroine and a servant who spoke with a brogue within the first few pages à automatic discard. Madeleine L’Engle’s A Winter’s Love was clearly going to be angsty women’s fiction, which I wasn’t in the mood for.
Fortunately, the next book I plucked from the TBR worked. The Canterbury Papers by Judith Koll Healey is a novel of political intrigue and adventure set in the early thirteenth century in the England of the Plantagenets and Capetian France. The narrator, Princesse Alaïs, is the sister of King Philippe of France, former betrothed of Richard the Lionhearted, and former lover of King Henry II. The adventure begins when Queen Eleanor writes to Alaïs, asking her to retrieve some politically damaging letters from Canterbury cathedral. Upon arriving at Canterbury, Alaïs encounters William of Caen, with whom she and the Plantagenet children spent their youths. A variety of flashbacks reveal snippets of Alaïs’ history, and how she came to be an unmarried, almost-middle aged princess, and they also narrate the story relationship of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their children, as well as giving background to the political currents of the day.
I was predisposed to like this book, because I was fascinated by the Plantagenets as a young teenager and read about them voraciously, particularly Eleanor of Aquitaine. The woman was the greatest heiress of that time, she married the king of France, went on a crusade, divorced the king, married Henry who became the king of England, gave birth to at least eight children (two of whom would be kings), and was basically the grandmother of all Europe in the thirteenth century.
And I was pleased. There were a couple of things that made me roll my eyes – I guessed the identity of the red haired scribe, and thought the love interest was blatant, and thought Alaïs was TSTL when it came to her room being ransacked – but the book was well paced and used to good effect some of the known information about the major figures of the day and real political events and tensions.
I’d recommend this book for readers who like historical fiction. (B-)