Before picking up this book, I'd never heard of Alice Perrers. For those who are fans of historical fiction, this novel follows much the same plot as others within the genre. A woman of modest birth is bound by an arranged marriage to a wealthier family, and then through twists and turns, finds herself as lady in waiting to the queen of England. We all know how those arrangements turn out.
A merchant's daughter raised with an eye for business is wed to a wealthy widower twenty years her senior. While Alice Salisbury and Janyn Perrers take to one another immediately, a family secret threatens to eclipse their happiness. Dangerous connections to the royal family of King Edward III separate Alice from her husband, child, and home, thrusting her into a life she is not prepared for. Her knowledge of trading and business brings her ever closer to King Edward and his wife, as Alice becomes a lady in waiting to Queen Philippa. While the royal family vows to keep Alice safe from those who would harm her over the Perrers family secret, her husband goes missing and she is forced to pay the price for her safety. The King's affections add to the danger at court, even as her obedience to her King turns to love. Her new position as his mistress ruins her reputation and sets her in the middle of a political power struggle, where she cannot hope to survive without sacrificing her heart and her ideals.
However common the premise, this novel is different from the normal historical fiction titles I've read of late. Alice is not bound to a loveless marriage, though she experiences the same suffering as other protagonists of this time period wherein obedience is expected above all else. Emma Campion does not favor purple prose as many historical novels so often do, and instead allows just enough description to draw the reader into fourteenth century England and the life she has given to the title character. One of the things I love most about this author is that she lets the country serve as a background for her tale without allowing it to overpower the story. The relationships created in 'The King's Mistress' had purpose, which I also enjoyed. I pride myself on being able to see a storyline coming before it actually appears, and I was pleasantly surprised that the intrigue of the connections with each new character were not immediately apparent.
In truth, I will likely have to re-read the book, mostly because I enjoyed the depth of the characters, the mystery that surrounded them, and the author's style of writing. Many historical novelists tend to lose their readers because they try too hard to write as if they were from that time period, which leaves the reader checking dictionaries or Wikipedia to figure out what it is they've just read. This is not the case with Emma Campion's style, which reads like the time period without making me scratch my head.
'The King's Mistress' gives a voice to a woman whose life was fraught with danger, scandal, and heartbreak. While she may have been the notorious mistress of King Edward III and the scapegoat for his heirs, there was more to Alice Perrers than what history tells us. Emma Campion brings to life a beautiful, heartrending tale of love, loss, and the inextinguishable spirit of a woman destined to be misunderstood by those who condemned her relationship to the King of England.