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Medieval skullduggery: book review of Queen of the North by Anne O’Brien

May 29, 2018

Anne O’Brien is renowned for her ability to breathe vivid life into previously unexplored periods of English history. The Queen of the North is no exception – an immersive and epic story of a dynasty that might have been.

England, 1399. The ‘queen’ of the title is Elizabeth Mortimer, married to Sir Henry Percy, known more commonly as Harry or Hotspur (from the Shakespeare plays), son of the Earl of Northumberland. They form the mighty Percy family which clings to power in the north of England, holding off border skirmishes from the Welsh to the west and the mighty Scots to the north.

Narrated throughout from the point of view of Elizabeth, a woman of incisive wit and cool keen eye, Queen of the North details the everyday intrigue, danger and drama that pervade medieval life for the noble classes. Elizabeth is herself of nobler stock than her husband, with royal Plantagenet blood on her mother’s side and rich Mortimer heritage from her father.

As King Richard II campaigns in Ireland, there are plans afoot in England to oust him from the throne. When the Percys back Henry of Lancaster’s plot, Elizabeth must be a good dutiful wife and support her husband and father-in-law, but she strongly disapproves, supporting instead her young Mortimer nephew’s royal claim and shrewdly aware that this is the more advantageous position for her family.

Elizabeth views her husband’s alliance as a betrayal of the Mortimer aspirations to the throne and this wreaks havoc in her marriage, an arranged union, but one that has grown into one of genuine mutual love and strong attraction.

Soon all the Percys rue their alliance with King Henry as they are left to fund the protection of the English realm, with none of the promised recompense from London. So, when Elizabeth’s brother allies himself with the planned Welsh rebellion, Elizabeth and Harry must decide whether to throw in their lot with the rebels and once again risk their heads for treason.

Anne O’Brien is a much-lauded historical fiction writer, with Reader’s Digest declaring she is approaching ‘Philippa Gregory status’. Queen of the North is full of dramatic tension as it details a world of sly political engineering and self interest where everyone must remain alert and be pragmatic to survive the political ties constantly shifting like quicksand. This is skilfully combined with penetrative depictions of the personal and emotional, to great effect.

O’Brien has built a reputation for unearthing intriguing nuggets of history to transform into compellingly fiction and achieves this once again with this riveting tale of war, thwarted ambition, love and heartache. With Queen of the North. she cements this reputation.

About the author

As a prolific reader and ex-history teacher, Anne O’Brien has been lucky to fulfil her ambition to write historical romances. Her first success was a 400 word love story about a garden for Mills & Boon – an auspicious start! Anne lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century cottage. It is a place that gives her much inspiration and many sources for her writing. Anne often makes time to visit old houses, gardens and priories to absorb atmosphere for her novels.

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