Katherine

by Anya Seton

Reviewed by Coral


A young orphan, raised in a small convent in the quiet countryside of England, Katherine Swynford arrives at the court of Edward III with dreams of marriage to a brave and handsome knight. Unfortunately, she has been mainly forgotten by the sick queen who paid for the care of many orphaned children of her husband's knights. It is only that Katherine's sister is a favored servant of the queen that Katherine finds herself betrothed to a minor knight. She is disappointed, but resigned to the life that is to be hers, trying to put out of her mind her love for a man she can never have: John, Duke of Lancaster.

But, her love for the duke turns out not to be as out of her reach as she thought. Katherine and John find their way to each other and embark on a decades long affair as all of England simmers around them.

The main problem with this book is that I never bought Katherine and John as this "true love conquers all" couple. I can understand her having this crush on him when she's younger and wanting to find a brave knight to be married to, but I never quite saw where the love came from. John thinks she's beautiful when he first meets her, of course, but there's never really anything after that where you can see things between them grow. Then, all of a sudden, the wife that he loves dies and he's confessing his love to Katherine and trying to get her into bed the same day he's burying his wife! The fact that Katherine was the one tending to his wife as she died made me think he was more confused and grateful and trying to grab onto someone who had this part of his wife that he'd missed than a man in love.

I know this book was written 50 years ago, way before the term "Mary Sue" came into existence, but man is Katherine a Mary Sue.  Nothing she does is ever wrong or improper. Everyone who speaks against her is evil or bad or wrong. The author even says that Katherine is flustered when she meets a man who is harsh with her because she's used to her beauty being admired by every man she meets.

Also, like in a lot of other books, I didn't like how Katherine came to court, an orphaned girl with no dowry, but for some inexplicable reason all these rich and influential people - like John's wife - start fawning over her and looking out for her. No matter how many books I see it in, it's never seemed that realistic.

There were a couple of potentially interesting plot points - one of the Duke's daughters who made slightly nasty comments to Katherine, and Katherine's daughter with her first husband who comes to see her mother as a whore - that were dropped in favor of some of the political machinations of the time. Maybe it made the story more historically accurate, but I wish some of it could have happened in the background so we could have had plots that made the story more interesting as a whole.

As it was, because I never really cared about Katherine and John as a couple, I never really cared about whether or not they ended up together, which made the book a pretty boring read.

Grade: C