Saturday, 20 July 2013

The Agincourt Bride - Joanna Hickson
Joanna Hickson’s Catherine de Valois in the Agincourt Bride, is a valiant attempt to break into a genre dominated by the likes of Phillipa Gregory.

Although a great debut, the Agincourt Bride falls short of the punch, characteristic of a Gregory novel. But then, it is unfair to be harsh on Hickson for the beginning of the novel pulls you right in. Told through the eyes of the nursemaid and confidante Guillaumette, it introduces the birth and traces the life of Catherine de Valois of France, during her tough childhood and later the court intrigue surrounding her as the daughter of a manipulative, corrupt queen and a mad king.

The crucial thing with such peripheral characters such as the nursemaid telling the story is that they must always be in the sidelines, keeping the limelight on the main characters. Hickson’s Catherine though is projected as the beautiful, strong willed character, fails to match up to Guillaumette (called “Mette”) who often ends up being more stoic and better character of the two.

Phillipa Gregory’s "King’s fool" also had a similar character, a courtier who bears eyewitness to the power struggles between Elizabeth and Mary and often suffers the consequences of being in that unique position. Yet she never becomes the focus of the story which unfortunately is not the case with Mette.

The pace too tends to dry up in places, making it a chore to plough through. But then giving credit where it is due, Hickson's effective use of the epistolary device offers a new dimension to the story.The letters revealing Catherine’s most private emotions in her letters to her brother Charles, the heir to the throne of France, furthers the plot while offering insight into the character. That along with Mette’s perspective offers some great moments in the novel, albeit in parts.

What works for the Agincourt Bride:
A great start. Mette’s self introduction is very engaging and hooks the reader
Hickson’s idea to choose Catherine de Valois, an interesting character with a lot of potential
The epistolary device

What doesn’t:
The strong introduction fails to sustain interest 
Writing tends to drag in places
The peripheral character ends up overshadowing the main character

Having said this, this debut novel holds a lot of promise and it is not easy to tackle such a subject especially for a first time author.  Also, the book offers an extract to its sequel, which continues Catherine’s journey to England as the Queen where she founds the Tudor dynasty. Hope the story which has started on a bit of a shaky ground will come into its own in the second book.

A great attempt as a debut novel.  Go for it but don’t expect it to be a White Queen or Red Queen and you won’t be disappointed.