Before I get into my review of Emma Campion’s latest novel, let me apologize for my long absence! Currently I am on a tour of the US, the end of which will see me settling in Georgia. Attempting to keep up with work and blogging has proven very difficult in the midst of my move down South.
But I am back! And busy as ever. Recently, I was hired to blog for the website Law Street Media– a news and blog site reporting on public policy currently affecting society (my first post can be found here). Please check it out and let me know what you think in the comments!
Now back to what this blog is all about: books! Some of you may have read The King’s Mistress, the debut novel of Emma Campion (author Candace Robb’s new pen name). It tells the untold story of Alice Perrers- aging King Edward III’s infamous mistress.
In A Triple Knot, Campion takes us even further back in history, to when Edward III was a young king trying to arrange a marriage for his cousin Joan. By the age of twelve, the future princess was already called the Fair Maid of Kent; her delicate features and golden hair attracting suitors from the places Edward needed as allies.
Though she was seen as simply a child with a pretty face, Joan was very intelligent and had her own ideas about who she wanted to marry. The moment she began her journey to Edward’s court, she set her sights on Thomas: a handsome soldier almost fourteen years her senior.
Thomas Holland is perfectly content with his life in the military and the attentions of his vivacious mistress, so when he is immediately drawn to Edward’s young cousin, he must try to fight his growing attraction. Joan does not make it easy for him, first classifying him as a friend and protector, then bestowing her favor upon him in battle. It does not take long before they are stealing kisses on palace grounds- even as Edward plots Joan’s marriage to a foreigner.
Joan’s non-royal kin, who wish to protect her from noblemen with less than noble intentions, see Thomas and Joan’s love and hatch a plan. They have the couple married in secret, so that Joan is protected.
But wedded bliss is far off in the future for this clandestine couple, as Thomas is soon sent off to the Crusades and Joan must keep their love and marriage hidden from those who would tear them apart. Inevitably, Edward finds out about her betrayal, and has her married off to another.
When Thomas returns from war, wealthy and newly titled, he and Joan are in for the fight of their lives. Campion takes the reader along on their wild, emotional ride, which is historical proof that love can conquer all obstacles.
I have said it before and I will say it again: I love historical fiction. The fact that these characters actually existed makes their story all the more exciting. Joan of Kent is a particularly intriguing figure, because- while she married her first husband for love- she ended up the wife of Edward, The Black Prince, and the mother of King Richard II.
My reaction to Campion’s second novel was much the same as my reaction to her first: lots of confusion but overall satisfaction. The first few chapters of A Triple Knot were packed full with historical figures (many of whom shared names and titles) and their back stories. The effect was a multitude of characters that distracted from the plot, and initially turned me off the novel. In fact, I stopped reading it entirely for a while and picked it up again after about two weeks. How could the author expect me to get into a book without being able to pinpoint the main character?
However, once I waded through the befuddlement that is the first few chapters, the plot began to emerge and side characters began to disappear. I found myself rooting for Joan and Thomas, and was impressed with Campion’s ability to interweave her substantial knowledge about medieval life with their love story. At times, the historical facts read a bit too much like a text book, but these instances were few and far between.
I will say that, while I enjoyed the plot and overall characterization, the fact that Joan was twelve when she consummated her marriage to Thomas was a tough thing to accept. These are probably my modern sensibilities talking, but a twelve-year-old and a twenty-six-year-old should not be getting married. Was it historically accurate? Yes. Was it at all strange back then? No. Still, it may come off as creepy to modern readers. Luckily, just as the plot becomes clearer as the novel goes on, Joan grows older and more mature.
In the end, I applauded Campion’s skill at bringing Plantagenet England to life, while untangling the knot of one of history’s most famous love triangles. The title, too, is extremely clever, since it gives simultaneous nods to Christianity’s Trinity, the various problems Joan and Thomas face, as well as Joan’s three marriages.
The Fair Maid of Kent sadly outlived Thomas and ended up marrying Edward III’s son, The Black Prince, who is painted as a villain in the novel. So, while history’s ending to their story is unsatisfactory, Campion’s portrayal of it was certainly a success. I would recommend to all reader’s of historical fiction or romance- you just have to get past the first few chapters!