Wednesday 13 May 2015

Reviewed: The Chosen Queen by Joanna Courtney.

The Chosen Queen was published in hardback and ebook by Pan Macmillan on May 7, 2015.

Thanks to Natasha Harding at Pan for sending me a copy to review for the blog tour.

I can't claim to have much knowledge on the Battle of Hastings, the lead-up to the Battle of Hastings or any real history from that age (I wish I did know more) and so I can't vouch for the credibility of the events Joanna Courtney has chosen to work around in The Chosen Queen. What I can vouch for is the wonderful, mesmerising storytelling that had me hooked from page one, keeping me engrossed throughout the entire novel and still left desperate for more. I am thrilled that The Chosen Queen is the first part of a trilogy because the writing was beautiful and powerful and passionate and I was so gripped by the prose and how well-drawn the characters were, how descriptive and atmospheric the story was. The author made this beauty of historical fiction equally accessible for people well aware of the era it's set in as well as people, like me, with limited knowledge on any of the characters or events involved.

I have to admit towards the beginning of this novel I did spend a bit of time losing count of the characters. There were a lot of names for me to take in and I pretty much gave up doing so until it was evident which characters were going to have the biggest impact on Edyth's life. I loved Edyth's character right from the start. She seemed so strong and inspired, and I really liked how much she valued love and romance when all around her, the idea of marriage was anything but romantic. Maybe it started off as youthful innocence, but Edyth grew up quickly once her family was exiled to Wales. Her character goes from strength to strength, even when she finds herself falling in love with Griffin, the King of Wales. Marriage follows and as Edyth becomes the Queen of Wales, she appears to become stronger, bolder, braver and more set-up for the turmoil to come.

The characters in this book were fantastically written. I found myself growing quite attached to them all, even when their actions weren't something you could approve of. Joanna really had an authentic way of building up the several layers of each character and the relationships between them, as compromising as they may have been, all felt very credible and easy to understand too.

When Edyth is forced to Wales, she leaves behind her close allies in England, Earl Harold and his wife Lady Svana. Edyth and Svana begin to communicate via letters and their friendship was part of the delights of this book for me. I found Svana's character to be quite extraordinary and the way she took on the tests their friendship faced was to me, commendable, and so unlike what you would expect. Svana had her own idea on love and marriage and she stuck to her guns on how she wanted to live her life. Despite the judgment of others, she still stayed true to herself and I was pleasantly surprised that throughout all the battles and unrest, Edyth and Svana's bond only strengthened. Their relationship was very touching and written with real class.

The story to The Chosen Queen had love running through the core but it would be underselling the novel to suggest that there wasn't a whole lot more to its brilliance. The pace shifted often, from the going-along-nicely phases to the tense and breathtaking, the parts I only realised I'd been reading relentlessly when they were over. Emotions ran high, sacrifices had to be made and The Chosen Queen was a spectacularly exciting start to a trilogy I can't wait to continue with.

Highly gripping, captivating piece of historical fiction that doesn't let you go until the end, and then all I could think about was book two in the trilogy.

All my life I've been fascinated by the past. I remember as a child visiting Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh and standing over the (presumably re-touched) bloodstain where David Rizzio was murdered by Lord Darnley and being forcibly struck by the reality of standing on the same spot - the very same boards – where the killing had taken place. That sense of layers of human experience has remained with me always and these days I’m lucky enough to live in a little Derbyshire house that was built in 1745. At the heart of it is a big stone fireplace and every time we light it I think of the many others that must have sat around it before me. History, to me, is something that is still very much alive, so it seemed natural to delve into the past for my fiction.

It’s probably insanity to choose to write historical fiction. The weight of research is heavy and however much of it you do, there will always be someone waiting to catch you out. You make up your characters, yes, but it’s less an act of invention than interpretation. You cannot so much choose what they do as how and why they do it, but I find those tight lines exciting. I guess it’s a bit like a poet choosing to write a sonnet, or a sestina – a form with rigid paradigms. To some extent it is a constriction but it is also a freedom to bring your own mind to a predefined frame.

For me, though, it is nothing so cerebral or worthy – it’s something much simpler. I love history and I cannot resist seeking to give it shape and make it live. That may be arrogant, but you could say that writing fiction of any sort is arrogant. All novels aim to lead a reader into a world and if my world happens to be nearly 1000 years ago, so what? The people that live in it are still, as I said above, people and I really hope that when the first novel of my trilogy, The Chosen Queen, comes out in May my readers enjoy getting to know them as just that.



  1. Great review, I also can't wait for the next book to come out!

    1. Thank you Suze, such a great start to the series!


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