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To the reader looking at my heading and shouting Henry V was a Plantagenet NOT a Tudor, you are quite right.
This novel shows how the conquered Welsh Tudor family started to become distantly connected to the English royal family, with a lot of engaging fiction thrown into the plot.
== Fact or Fiction ==
The main characters of Henry V, Catherine of Valois (a French Princess) and Owen Tudor are all drawn from history.
These are augmented with more real historical figures, including other members of the English and French royal families, Jehanne (Joan) of Arc and Christine de Pizan.
The fictional parts of the story stem mainly from the fact than the life of Catherine of Valois is not well documented in factual sources, which gives the author a lot of room for using her imagination.
The more reliable sources relating to the English Henry V and Owen Tudor (a member of the defeated Welsh royal family) are woven around Catherine's life story, so that fact and fiction are blurred.
However, the author does try to have a potentially authentic storyline, even if the details may be unlikely to have happened in this way. She believes Catherine to have had a strong character, and not like portrayed by Shakespeare by her bit part in his play Henry V. This, of course, had to be politically correct for the time it was written and first performed - Tudor times.
The second strong female character in this tale is Christine de Pizan. Facts about this independent lady are detailed at the back of the book. She was the daughter of a Venetian astrologer, who took his wife and young daughter with him, when he went to work for the French Court. Here young Christine played with royal children and had access to books, which were not available to most, especially girls. By taking advantage of these opportunities, astonishingly for a woman of that time, this feminist became an influential court poet and writer.
I was pleased that the historical facts, which inspired the author to write this fictional novel, are detailed in the pages at the end of the book, to help differentiate between reality and fiction.
== Writing Style ==
Vanora Bennett included long passages about the peaceful and beautiful Paris of Catherine's youth into the story at the beginning of the book. These went on too long for my taste, although I believe these to be accurate and of interest to some readers. I nearly gave up on the novel because of this, but am glad that I persevered, as it became clear later, through contrasts, why she did this, and there were no other parts of the writing that I found overly descriptive. By page 50 (out of 600) I was hooked by the writing.
The basis of the tale is Catherine de Valois' teenage and early adulthood. However, at times, the author leaves Catherine to tell of exploits of others, including relatively short passages about war. I felt this provided good contrasts.
The Royal Blood of the title, which Catherine believed was the sacred, rich purple blood of Charlemagne and his descendents (that included her), is one of the illustrations of the superstitions of that time. This royal blood brings the obligation to marry the "right" person, for the sake of your country. Could this possibly be your country's enemy, or will there be a happier conclusion for Catherine?
The author uses many contrasts including civilised French customs with coarse English behaviour, constructive peaceful activities with those of war, English Henry V with Welsh Owen Tudor, and the caring but schizophrenic French King Charles VI with his scheming selfish Queen.
Against the mostly serious plot, I found some of the antics of the French Queen Isabeau enjoyably darkly humorous. Perhaps that says something about my character.
Those who enjoy a happy ending will appreciate the point in Catherine's life at which the book ends. For those for want to know what happened next, there is 1½ pages of historical postscript.
== The Author ==
Vanora Bennett has written two non-fiction books about her experiences as a free-lance journalist (Crying Wolf: The Return of War to Chechnya, and The Taste of Dreams: An Obsession with Russia and Caviar), plus four historical fiction books. Her other novels, in a similar easy to read style to Royal Blood, are The People's Queen, Portrait of an Unknown Woman and Queen of Silks.
Her journalistic work has involved her travelling to conflict zones around the world, but her life is now centred on her family's home in London, where she lives with her husband and young children.
== RECOMMENDATION ==
I highly recommend that Philippa Gregory fans give this author a try.
The author has had to rely on her imagination for much of this story about the French Princess Catherine de Valois, as there are few documented facts about her. However, she mixes with a lot of famous historical characters, and these parts are based on factual evidence.
Read this if you would appreciate a medieval tale combining fictional romance with fact based international and royal family politics.
Paperback: 608 pages
Publisher: Harper (18 Feb 2010)