Joan's parents, Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry of England, are each trying to win the princess over. After years and years of fighting, Eleanor and Henry carry an animosity towards one another that no one can miss. They discover what a useful pawn their seven-year-old daughter Joan is, and frequently use her to their advantage. But when circumstances make it convenient for Joan to marry King William of Sicily, a man ten years her senior, Joan's life is about to become the hardest it's ever been.
My thoughts -
I found this story surprisingly dark. The kind of dark that involves heartbreak, illness, death, war, and suffering. No matter which way you look at it, Joan's life was sad. I also found this book surprisingly good. No the greatest book ever, just solid and secure. I don't often read historical fiction, and usually when I do it's for the story, not the history. But this one was different; I came in with no expectations and enjoyed everything about it, including the history parts, even when I felt a bit confused by so many quick historical facts, details and updates. I started reading this book at a faster pace than I'd recommend. I'd like to read it again, slower, to get all the details I may have missed.
The writing was excellent (after finishing it I went and wrote 3,000 words of my own story on a high), and the characters were so well done it was like I knew them...had known them for years.
Character notes -
For one, Joan had my attention with the first words she spoke. She was immediately alive and real. As the story continued on, I watched as Joan grew from a 7-year-old playing with dolls to a 10-year-old engaged to a 22-year-old. Then she became a woman at 14 and a widow at 25. The rest, I won't say. You'll have to see for yourself. But in any case, Joan became like a life-long friend. I had lived life for 25 years through her eyes. Her bravery and courage alone were enough to like her, and her kind heart made me love her. I also pitied her, knowing she could do nothing about her situation. But she forged on, making the best, even when things were hard.
My favorite character had a small role throughout the story, and had his main role toward the end. Lord Raymond... While there is no Perfect Prince Charming in this story, there is a Count, and he is charming, despite his imperfections. The end scenes with him in it made me giggle - he's so wonderful.
That's one thing I greatly appreciated about this book. There was no romanticizing things. Down to the last character, everyone had a flaw, and most of them affected the story greatly. Lord Raymond liked to throw his good looks and charms around too much, and William neglected his duties. Constance had a dirty secret. Eleanor was a heartless woman, despite her beauty. Richard made brash decisions. Real people were not downplayed and made into perfect, selfless people without a care in the world. That is probably the best thing about this book.
Story notes -
Just like the characters, the real life in this story is not dumbed down into fairy tale wonderland. Not in the slightest. In a world with meager medical assistance, warlords wanting to be king of all, and stupid and sad marriage customs, this story can be...heavy...at times. It weighed on my heart most of the time; I found myself sickened by Joan's parents' willingness to marry her off. "He'll probably wait till your courses come before trying for an heir, but if he comes to your bed before then it wont be a sin," was basically the theme for young girls handed over into marriage. Sick. Sick sick sick. This is real life, though, and while our society's problems are much different, we still have them, all the same.
Still, in the midst of all of Joan's hardships and shames and struggles, there is happiness. And while her happy moments are few, they were perfect for the story, without a question. And then end. The end was perfect in every single way. I couldn't have asked for anything better. What a great way to show how hard work and courage pay off. (And I must say, while I sometimes like tragic endings, I felt like this book needed a somewhat happy ending for all its hardships...I can't say I was disappointed.)
Summing it up -
The word trust is what comes to mind as I think back on the story. This book is about Joan's journey to trust. She was abused her whole life, and finally finding a friend or two to trust was a miracle to Joan. Every which way she looked, someone would do something terrible, making it hard for Joan to look to anyone for help. But in the end, she was rewarded for her perseverance, as she should be. It was a sat story with a touching end, satisfying and beautiful in every way.
For the parents -
Recommended to ages 16+. Two quick uses of GD. Sexual content, while not graphic or even detailed, is still there, just like every other nitty-gritty detail of Joan's life. This book doesn't just reference to her husband's visits to her bed, but they're not full sex scenes either. The details are sparing, but you get that she's either in pain or annoyed or just plain unhappy. Later, when she marries a man who truly loves her, he makes a comment as to how he can't wait to undress her. He is gentle with her and doesn't force her when she claims it will hurt, since she's only ever been hurt. Quick references to the night before. Aside from Joan, men's young lovers are often mentioned, and one male character is having a passionate affair with his aunt! :/