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Jun 14, 2010

Book Review: The Queen's Daughter by Susan Coventry

The Queen's Daughter by Susan Coventry
Young Adult, 384 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0805089929
US release June 8, 2010
Henry Holt and Company
The Burton Review Rating::FourStars!

Joan’s mother is Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, the most beautiful woman in the world. Her father is Henry II, the king of England. She loves them both—so what can she do when she’s forced to choose between them? As her parents’ arguments grow ever more vicious, Joan begins to feel like a political pawn.

When her parents marry her off to the king of Sicily, Joan finds herself with a man ten years her senior. She doesn’t love him, and she can’t quite forget her childhood crush, the handsome Lord Raymond. As Joan grows up, she begins to understand that her parents’worldview is warped by their political ambitions, and hers, in turn, has been warped by theirs. Is it too late to figure out whom to trust? And, more important, whom to love?
After reading a few Eleanor of Aquitaine novels this year, I could not pass up the opportunity to read more about one of Eleanor's daughters, Princess Joan. In the upcoming Captive Queen by Alison Weir, Joan was depicted as being unceremoniously shipped off to Sicily to marry a King significantly older than her who had then kept Joan virtually imprisoned while the King cavorted with the heretic Saracens in his bed. I felt bad for Joan who was, as usual, a mere pawn in her family's need for political gains.

This story by Susan Coventry opens up to Joan when she is a seven year old daughter who was somewhat forgotten amongst the turmoils of her older brothers who never ceased to cause strife between their parents and their domains. The Young King Henry, Richard, Duke of Aquitaine, and Geoffrey of Brittany paid little heed to young Joan at age seven and her younger brother, John. Queen Eleanor and King Henry seemed to use Joan against each other and were not portrayed as very fond parents. Eleanor is definitely not portrayed in the best light, but the story is focused on Joan and how she viewed things from her point of view as she was torn between father and mother continually. I appreciated the fact that Joan realized her political duties and did not seem to falter when the heavy burden of moving to a different country came to pass.

Being betrothed to King William in Sicily could have been the start to a new life for the new Queen Joan, but here she was still simply a shadow of sorts as William was ten years older than Joan, and too impatient to deal with a child bride. Joan proves herself a strong young woman, and handles the other women in Sicily's court with ease, yet she was kept away from King William for much of the time as he entertained himself elsewhere. The getting of an heir was awkward and not entirely loving, yet not as much of a hardship as had been impressed upon in earlier reads. William was not portrayed as an ogre as expected, but actually as a husband who was resigned to the idea of having a younger wife. There were not fights of the heir issues after many years of being barren. Of course, this was geared towards a young adult audience and the author writes later that little is really know of what Queen Joan truly had endured.

The author did a magnificent job of bringing to life the story of the young Princess Joan who became Queen Joanna of Sicily and later married to the ever present Raymond of Toulouse. Interesting court relationships were weaved throughout Joan's story, and I was very intrigued from beginning to finish to read what events surrounded Joan throughout her life, such as the Crusades. I would be happy to read a part two to this story, as it seemed to end when there could have been more to tell. This was also my first "young adult" read in many years, yet I was not set back with the style of writing, therefore I would not hesitate to recommend this to anyone interested in one of Eleanor's daughters who resembled the strong-willed Eleanor in many ways. As far as it being interesting for younger audiences, I would not be able to discern, as there are many characters and underlying political currents. I would think a prior knowledge of the time period would be extremely helpful to understand the events that are occurring and put them in better context for the reader. Although this is a work of fiction, I feel the author accomplished a lot with this debut novel while capturing the essence of Joan and characterizing her relationships with those around her, giving this forgotten queen a voice.