#BookReview Katherine by Anya Seton #ccspin @ourclassicsclub

TBR#7KatherineAbout the Book

Katherine comes to the court of Edward III at the age of fifteen. The naïve convent-educated orphan of a penniless knight is dazzled by the jousts and the entertainments of court.

Nevertheless, Katherine is beautiful, and she turns the head of the King’s favourite son, John of Gaunt. But he is married, and she is soon to be betrothed.

A few years later their paths cross again and this time their passion for each other cannot be denied or suppressed. Katherine becomes the prince’s mistress, and discovers an extraordinary world of power, pleasure and passion.

Format: ebook (516 pages)                             Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 6th March 2014  [1954]  Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance

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My Review

Katherine was the book from my Classics Club listpicked for me to read in the latest Classics Club Spin. And how glad I am it was selected because at 500 pages I’d been putting off reading it but, once I started the book, I became so caught up in the story that the pages flew by.

A fictionalized account of the relationship between Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, the book is wonderfully romantic without being slushy or sentimental and full of period atmosphere. The intimate portrait of their love affair which spanned decades is set against the backdrop of wider historical events, such as the Peasants’ Revolt. However, the historical detail never overwhelms the personal story.

The book is rich in descriptive detail – of food, clothing, furnishings, daily life – and has an interesting cast of secondary characters such as Geoffrey Chaucer. I also liked the way the closing scenes of the book contrast Katherine’s view of her newly elevated position with her first impressions of the Plantagenet court as a young girl.

No doubt it can be argued that Katherine is an overly romanticized account of a woman about whom relatively little is actually known. However, as a historical romance it worked for me and I thank the spin gods for choosing this book for me to read.

In three words: Romantic, immersive, engaging

Try something similar: The Scandalous Duchess by Anne O’Brien

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About the Author

Anya Seton was born in New York City and grew up on her father`s large estate in Cos Cob and Greenwich, Connecticut, where visiting Indians taught her Indian dancing and woodcraft. One Sioux chief called her Anutika, which means ‘cloud grey eyes’, a name which the family shortened to Anya. She was educated by governesses and then travelled abroad, first to England, then to France where she hoped to become a doctor. She studied for a while at the Hotel Dieu hospital in Paris before marrying at eighteen and having three children.

She began writing in 1938 with a short story sold to a newspaper syndicate and the first of her ten novels was published in 1941. Her other novels include Green Darkness, The Winthrop Woman and Avalon. She died in 1990.

#BookReview Buchan of the Month: Sir Quixote of the Moors by John Buchan

20200118_131258About the Book

In the mid-sixteenth century, Jean de Rohaine, a middle-aged French nobleman, journeys to Scotland in search of adventure and a new beginning. In Scotland he meets up with his old friend, Quentin Kennedy, who informs him of a great battle to be waged. Yet what is the Frenchman’s horror when he rides with Kennedy’s men in search of honour, but finds instead that the “war” is with unarmed religious dissidents, “Covenanters,” whom he watches massacred.

Disgusted, he sets off alone across the barren moors, where he wanders until he comes to a cottage containing a beautiful and unprotected young woman, Anne. Rohaine promises to be her protector, but his ideals of honour and duty will be put to the test when he finds himself gradually falling in love with her….

Format: Hardcover (182 pages) Publisher: T Fisher Unwin
Publication date: 1924 [1895]   Genre: Historical fiction, romance

Find Sir Quixote of the Moors on Goodreads


My Review

Buchan’s first published novel, Sir Quixote of the Moors is described in one edition as ‘A Charming Narrative of the Scottish Moors depicting the Tragic Love Story of a Gallant Gentleman’. In the book’s prologue, Buchan presents what follows as an account written by a French knight, Jean de Rohaine, even going so far as to invent an explanation for why it is in English and pointing out changes he has made in an editorial capacity. The structural device of discovered papers would recur in later Buchan novels.

The book’s title clearly references Cervantes’ Don Quixote and both heroes share an aspiration to embody in their actions the highest levels of chivalry. The majority of Buchan’s novel is taken up with de Rohaine’s moral dilemma about his growing attraction to Anne, the young woman he pledges to protect when her father and her betrothed are forced into hiding because of their religious views. The fact he arrived at their door lost and near to exhaustion and was shown great hospitality weighs on his conscience.

As mentioned in my earlierblog post introducing the book, Buchan’s first biographer Janet Adam Smith reports he was annoyed his US publisher changed the ending. Having now read the book and compared the two endings, I can see why he was upset. Without giving anything away, the alternative endings to Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations spring to mind.

Although rather a slight story and probably largely of interest due to being his first novel, Sir Quixote of the Moors shows early signs of the literary craftsmanship for which Buchan would become known. In particular, the Scottish landscape is vividly described even if poor Jean experiences it predominantly in the cold, the wind and the rain.

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John BuchanAbout the Author

John Buchan (1875 – 1940) was an author, poet, lawyer, publisher, journalist, war correspondent, Member of Parliament, University Chancellor, keen angler and family man.  He was ennobled and, as Lord Tweedsmuir, became Governor-General of Canada.  In this role, he signed Canada’s entry into the Second World War.   Nowadays he is probably best known – maybe only known – as the author of The Thirty-Nine Steps.  However, in his lifetime he published over 100 books: fiction, poetry, short stories, biographies, memoirs and history.

You can find out more about John Buchan, his life and literary output by visiting The John Buchan Society website.