Anne O’Brien: The Shadow Queen

The Shadow Queen Cover

I received a free digital copy of this book from the publishers through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The untold story of Joan of Kent, the mastermind behind the reign of child-King Richard II. A tale of treachery, power-hungry families and legal subterfuges.

‘What would enhance the pattern of my life further? One word slid into my mind. A seductive word. A dangerous word, perhaps, for a woman. Power.’

From her first clandestine marriage Joan of Kent’s reputation is one of beauty, scandal and rumour.

Her royal blood makes her a desirable bride. Her ambition and passion make her a threat.

Joan knows what she has to do to survive. The games to play, the men to marry – even if one man will always have her heart.

A remarkable story of love and loyalty and of the cost of personal ambition. The story of the woman who would ultimately wield power as the mother to 10 year old King Richard II, from the shadows of the throne.


The Shadow Queen tells the story of Joan of Kent, a royal relation to King Edward during the 1300s. We follow Joan as she takes matters into her own hands in regards to her ambitions and desires regardless of whether her position as a Plantagenet royal will be scorned. We watch as her life follows many twists and turns, with many happy and sad moments that shape her into the person that she becomes. The Shadow Queen is a tale of political intrigue, scandal, love, passion, and ambition.

I love a good historical fiction novel, especially ones like this where a historical figure is fictionalised whilst telling their true story. I feel like it really helps to understand history better instead of reading factual texts that just drone on and on about the stuff that, though is actually quite interesting, becomes boring. Anne O’Brien is a brilliant writer, submerging me into Joan of Kent’s life from the opening of the novel. We start during her young teenage years when her whole life has been changed by an act of her own making, putting her position in jeopardy. O’Brien knows how to bring emotion into this novel as you truly sympathise with Joan and her situation. Not only that, but there were quite a few times where I may have shed a tear as O’Brien brought Joan’s life – well, to life! I felt like I was there alongside Joan as she courted men, put daggers in places and people, and generally pushed herself forward into roles that wouldn’t usually be open to her.

An aspect I truly enjoyed was how O’Brien allowed Joan to have her own voice. Not knowing Joan of Kent, I would assume that it would be hard to understand her internal thoughts and some of her ambitions and fears; O’Brien brings all of this into the novel which helps to flesh Joan out and make her alive as opposed to some two-dimensional figure that you are just learning about. It helped in understanding why Joan does what she does and to understand her position and the vulnerabilities that she must face.

Though we don’t see a lot of Joan outside of England unless she directly travelled or it affected her, O’Brien has clearly researched events of the time with the inclusion of wars, celebrations, crusades and more. There are a lot of side characters who are mentioned that you very rarely see but must understand how their position affects Joan and her family. This isn’t just a story of Joan in this respect, but also of King Edward and her husband Ned, his son. From Joan’s position in court we are able to see how King Edward chose to live his life as King and the decisions he made making this novel not purely about Joan.

The Shadow Queen was an enjoyable novel that really appealed to my love of historical fiction. I’d love to read anymore work by O’Brien that is of a similar style and context as I do find it hard to find historical fiction that falls into this style that appeals to me. Absolutely brilliant!

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