The King’s Mistress by Emma Campion
Published by Crown, an imprint of Random House
Review copy provided by the publicist

In Edward III’s mid-14th-century reign, we meet Alice Salisbury, who at the age of fourteen marries Janyn Perrers, a merchant with a strangely close relationship to Queen Mother Isabella.  While she misses her family and her home, Alice quickly falls in love with her husband, gets used to her new life, and gives birth to a daughter.  Soon after she establishes her happiness, however, it is ripped away from her as Janyn disappears and Alice is summoned to court by Queen Philippa.  Alice is basically told that the only way for her daughter to remain safe is for Alice to stay at court and become one of Philippa’s ladies, so having not much choice in the matter, she complies.  But everything gets a lot more complicated for Alice when she captures the King’s interest, and suddenly must redefine herself as the King’s mistress.

I quite enjoyed The King’s Mistress.  I don’t know if this is a compliment or not, but it reminded me of a Philippa Gregory novel with a bit less drama/scandal.  I enjoy Gregory and find her books entertaining, so to me, that’s a good thing.  I enjoyed the pacing of The King’s Mistress – I felt like Campion allowed the reader to discover things only as Alice discovered them, which made for some shocking moments throughout the novel.  The foreshadowing was done well, as I knew there would be some twists but they weren’t clearly spelled out in advance for the reader and I, knowing very little about this period of history, didn’t know much about what would happen beforehand.

The star of this novel is the character of Alice, and what a star she was.  She was really a character I could get on board with, I respected her actions and the decisions she made and I genuinely liked her.  She was so young and naive when she married Janyn, and she was forced to grow up and learn the ways of the world very quickly.  For the most part, she figured out life at court and navigated her way through it intelligently and with her own style, and I enjoyed reading about her journey.  I very much wonder how much the real Alice Perrers fell in love with the king (in the book, she absolutely falls head over heels) as he is quite a bit older than she and their relationship had about a million strings attached, but I must admit that I liked the way this novel portrayed their relationship.  One thing I loved about Alice in the book is that she was an excellent mother, she may not have been physically present with her kids at all times (she wasn’t allowed to be) but she loved them so much and was separated from them because of how much she loved them, she made that sacrifice so that they would be safe.  And I thought that was a really admirable choice for her to make.

I also surprised myself by really liking Queen Philippa and even King Edward.  They were portrayed as such good people, yes they were royal so there was always scandal and wars and drama going on, but they seemed so genuine to me.  The Queen, especially toward the end of the book, really came across as a real person to me, and while the King kept many mistresses over the years, he really seemed to care about all of his women and treat them with respect.  I liked a lot about this book, but most notably I liked most of the characters.

The King’s Mistress was a very enjoyable piece of historical fiction that I can definitely recommend.