Wednesday 24 August 2011

Book review : Devil's Consort - Anne O' Brien

If you'd asked me a couple of years ago, I'd have told you that I didn't like historical fiction because I thought it was stuffy and academic, boring and peopled with characters totally unrelated to modern-day life. Then I got swept up in the hype surrounding Phillipa Gregory's The White Queen and The Red Queen and discovered a whole new genre to enjoy. Despite my negative (and totally wrong) preconceptions, I found it to be action-packed, full of intrigue and emotional drama, very similar to chick-lit but with greater impact because it's loosely based on historical fact.

When I picked up my review copy of Anne O' Brien's Devil's Consort, I smirked at the apparent war being waged between the two authors, with straplines declaring "If you like Philippa Gregory, you'll love Anne O' Brien" and "Better than Philippa Gregory", but this competitive streak seems to be simply a marketing ploy because Anne O' Brien lists Philippa Gregory in her Top Ten Books in the reading guide at the back of the book. I couldn't help but keep spotting the similarities between the two author's works and enjoyed them both equally.

I love the way that the heroine of the novel, Eleanor of Aquitaine, seems to be such a modern-thinking, strong-willed woman, despite living in the twelfth century when women had very little standing. She doesn't back down and manages to use her seductive power and political cunning to her advantage to carve out her own destiny, which is quite incredible given the historical setting.

Eleanor is not a wholly likable person and certain aspects of her character are quite unappealing - I couldn't help but feel distanced and slightly offended by her complete lack of maternal instinct with her daughters and her total lack of scruples when embarking on an incestuous affair with her uncle - but I like the fact that this makes her into a more rounded, believable figure with greater depth.

She was certainly a remarkable woman, rarely backing down, going off on Crusade with the men of Aquitaine and clearly wearing the trousers (at times, endearingly literally !) in her relationship with her totally useless, monkish husband, King Louis of France. It is heartwarming to see her meet her match and find happiness with her second husband Henry Plantagenet, future king of England, but even then, when the couple appear to have the world at their feet and things start looking up, the first cracks start to appear in this new union and we can't help but wonder if she hasn't jumped out of the frying pan into the fire.

I did feel that the writing occasionally read a bit like a rose-tinted, boddice-ripping Mills & Boon novel, so I was only half surprised to see that Anne's first historical romance was published by Harlequin Mills & Boon. I would have liked it to be slightly less sentimental and be a bit grittier at times, but overall it was a compelling read, particularly as the reader's guide at the end gives you further suggested reading to delve more deeply into the historical background and more factual research into the character of Eleanor of Aquitaine. I was particularly intrigued to see what happened to Eleanor and Henry after the novel has drawn to a close.
star rating : 4/5

RRP : £7.99
Paperback: 624 pages

Publisher: Mira Books (15 April 2011)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0778304272
ISBN-13: 978-0778304272


  1. you've tempted me now, not fair, i was going tosave my pennies for the new phillia gregory thats out soon!!

  2. Thanks for the review, another book to add to the reserve list at the library.


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