Publishing under her real name for the first time, veteran historical romancer Felber (aka Edith Layton) crafts a capable tale of 14th-century European politics with a feminist slant.
Felber focuses on two women: England’s Queen Isabella, a French princess married to bisexual Edward II, and her lady-in-waiting, Gwenith. Isabella is beautiful and insightful, often fulminating in a decidedly modern way about women’s twin subordination to their husbands and their bodies. She’s depicted as the wise political adult in her marriage, while Edward is presented as a weak, approval-seeking child who whines, “It is not fair,” or “I want to be left alone.” His queen silently endures a parade of male lovers, beginning with Piers Gaveston, and devotes herself to caring for their four children. But Edward’s involvement with brutal, power-hungry Hugh Despenser pushes her to the brink. Gwenith has Welsh roots and a dark secret: Her parents suffered during Edward the First’s forcible annexation of Wales, and she has sworn a blood oath of revenge. Her role as the queen’s confidante places her at the center of the royal couple’s tense interactions, and eventually, she finds a way to rock the throne while remaining loyal to Isabella, even finding love for herself in the process. Welsh Baron Owain de Rhys approaches Gwenith on behalf of Roger Mortimer, an imprisoned enemy of the Despensers. She arranges a meeting with Isabella, who becomes Mortimer’s lover and helps him escape from the Tower of London to France. In 1326, Isabella and Mortimer lead an army back to England and dethrone Edward in favor of Isabella’s eldest son, destined to become Edward III. Gwenith marries Owain and has lots of children.
Popular historical fiction with a romantic spin: a little earnest, but readable.