The Forbidden Queen starts out in a very promising way. Poor little Katherine is a princess, yet destitute. Her mother, Isabeau of Bavaria, has resources but not the desire to raise her children. She is too caught up in her own selfish desires to concern herself with the dirty little girls scurrying around the castle. Katherine’s father, Charles VI of France, is insane and may or may not remember who Katherine is when he does run into her. If they chance to interact and he believes that she is indeed his daughter, he makes an effort to provide for her, but his mind is too far gone for her to rely upon him.
This tragic picture of childhood is a far cry from the expected pampered royal upbringing that most princes and princesses of Katherine’s day enjoyed. Once her mother realizes the state of her daughters, she removes them to a cold, stern convent to be educated and disciplined. Katherine grows up never learning what it is like to love or be loved. Her only comfort is her sister Michelle, who of course is lost to her upon her marriage.
When Katherine is married to the legendary Henry V, she envisions a new life of love and happiness. However, her husband is too distracted by his quest to rule over France in addition to England to spend much time wooing his young bride. She is in love nonetheless because he is all she has. At this point in the story, I could still feel sympathy for Katherine. I cared about what happened to her and felt sorry for the girl who wanted so much to give herself to someone and be truly loved in return. After Henry’s death, the whole story fell apart.
Katherine is understandably crushed by her husband’s death and the circumstances surrounding it, but she descends into depression, self-pity, and insipidness that she never (ever) seems to fully recover from. The rest of the book includes her relationships with Edmund Beaufort and Owen Tudor, who are about as two dimensional as characters can be. Meanwhile, Katherine is naïve, selfish, and has a little too much of her parents in her.
Edmund is the seducing rogue who everyone realizes is a bad boy except Katherine. Owen is the brooding, strong, quick-tempered, yet perfectly handsome and sensitive Welshman. Katherine spends so much time doubting herself, her relationships, and the motives of the King’s council which rules her life. She makes, or attempts to make, several major decisions without consulting with whichever man she is deeply in love with at the time. She was just so unlikeable.
What I was really bothered by in this novel was the repetitiveness. Over and over, the reader was reminded: Henry only married Katherine to gain France, Edmund is sexy but it would be a horrible decision to sleep with him, Owen is a servant! My uncorrected proof copy of this book is 613 pages, while I see that Goodreads lists it as 464, so maybe much of this was edited out. I hope so. The other problem that I had was that we aren’t told much of what is going on other than Katherine’s inner thoughts, which are pretty much only about men. England is battling for the crown of France and all we know is that Owen has glossy black hair. It’s just a little too fluffy for me. However, if you are more of a fan of romance than history, it may be just the book for you. I like a little more history in my historical fiction.