Queen of Heaven (Maid of Gascony, Book 2)

Written by Catherine Clover
Review by Ben Bergonzi

This second instalment of the memoirs of Lady Isabella d’Albret Courteault starts in 1453, in South Wales after Isabella has just said farewell to her betrothed, Lord Richard Goodwyn. He has left to return a priceless relic to the Vatican. She then travels back into England only to find that the Wars of the Roses have left her in grave jeopardy: she must hide out in an Oxford college, disguised as a male student.

Having enjoyed the previous book (The Templar’s Garden), I find Isabella a very likeable and vital character. She has convincing religious visions, including the heretical suggestion that God could be female. Attempting to rejoin the troubled Lord Richard, she makes a travelogue-like journey, taking in Calais, Lucerne, Florence and Rome, before finishing back in South Wales, amongst the Tudors. She encounters real-life objects and characters: the Wilton Diptych, the father of Leonardo da Vinci and the parents of King Henry VII.

The book is consistently readable: as well as Gothic architecture, we have Gothic plotting—a disguised leper, a jail dungeon, the Roman catacombs, and more. The editing could have been better; a sea captain’s name changes from ‘Aird’ to ‘Smith’; there are some inappropriate phrases: ‘ambled’ (for walking into a dying man’s presence), ‘open to the public’, ‘this weekend’. The dialogue is frequently over-explanatory. I found some of Isabella’s comments seemed distractingly more like hindsight than prophecy. For example, when describing Calais in the 1450s, she says it is still under English occupation (when this occupation was to continue for another century). Reading this book, I was reminded of Dennis Wheatley’s vintage Roger Brook series, unevenly written but always gripping. Clover also has the knack of crafting a propulsive plot, full of movement and incident. Recommended.