Book Review: The Royal Game by Anne O’Brien

About the Book:

The spellbinding new historical novel from the Sunday Times bestseller Anne O’Brien.

England, 1444. Three women challenge the course of history…

King Henry VI’s grip on the crown hangs by a thread as the Wars of the Roses starts to tear England apart. And from the ashes of war, the House of Paston begins its rise to power.

Led by three visionary women, the Pastons are a family from humble peasant beginnings who rely upon cunning, raw ambition, and good fortune in order to survive.

Their ability to plot and scheme sees them overcome imprisonment, violence, and betrayal, to eventually secure for their family a castle and a place at the heart of the Yorkist Court. But success breeds jealousy and brings them dangerous enemies…

An inspirational story of courage and resilience, The Royal Game, charts the rise of three remarkable women from obscurity to the very heart of Court politics and intrigue.

Published by HarperCollins Publishers Australia

Released September 2021

My Thoughts:

A splendid historical fiction saga that heralds the beginning of a new series. Anne O’Brien is a master at writing royal historical fiction, she has an ability to not get bogged down in the politics whilst still conveying the key points of the politics in an extremely readable fashion.

I had never heard of the Paston family – no surprises there, they existed in the 15th century, and while I am an avid fan of royal history, I’m not that well read to know of every family throughout English history. The interesting thing about this family, and this novel, is that they were prolific letter writers and being a family of lawyers, they were also meticulous about keeping personal records, all of which has stood the test of time. So, Anne O’Brien had a literal treasure trove of primary sources with which to piece together this family’s history and craft a story of their comings and goings against the backdrop of the Wars of the Roses.

And what a fascinating story it is. Told through the eyes of three women, but predominantly through Margaret Paston’s eyes – the wife of the head of the family – we bear witness to the extreme volatility of life in the 15th century. It was a time where nothing was certain, not even the property you owned, which could be taken by force and destroyed with no recourse. Kingmaking was rife and loyalties were fickle; it was an extremely dangerous time for all, no matter your class or status. I was astonished and fascinated by the way in which nothing was certain. You could own your property, but if some neighbouring Duke decided to take it, they just would. They would just move in, evict you by force or take possession while you were away, and that was it. You could try and fight it in the courts all you liked, but if you eventually won your property back – more through bribes and cunning than legal rights – the invader would just destroy everything before leaving so that all you got back was a pile of rubble and junk. And so, this happened, over and over, to the Paston family.

I loved the focus on the women, not only the observation of events from their perspective, but the way in which the decisions made about their lives by others impacted upon them. My heart ached for Elizabeth Paston, who was treated abominably by her mother and ignored by her brothers. Fatherless, she had to rely on her brothers to find her a husband, but they were too occupied with their own affairs and any suitor that came along was rejected by her mother for insubstantial reasons. The poor woman was trapped and abused, with no ability to escape at all and no capacity to make decisions, for without a husband she was the property of her mother. I adored Margaret Paston, the wife of John, eldest son, and head of the family. She was clever, a woman who knew what was required to be a successful wife of a noble family, yet still retained a decency and kindness that was to be admired. Her empathy for her sister-in-law Elizabeth’s situation was perhaps the only reason it ever changed.

It wasn’t until the end of the novel that I discovered this was to become a series. While I’m not a huge fan of reading a series, I do like an historical one such as this, and I wasn’t quite ready to be done with this family yet, so I look forward to the next release, hopefully coming later this year. Recommended for fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, this is high quality historical fiction. Anne O’Brien is a favourite of mine within this genre and topic. The Royal Game is a captivating saga that made me feel as though I had stepped right into another world for the duration.


*Book 2 in my 22 in 2022 challenge*

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