Queen of Shadows: A Novel of Isabella, Wife of King Edward II
In her own time, Isabella, the much maligned wife of the English king Edward II, was known as the She-Wolf of France because, with the help of her lover, she deposed her ineffectual husband and, so some sources assert, had him murdered in one of the most horrible ways imaginable. With the revision of perceptions about historical women that has come with modern feminism, historians are taking another, less opprobrious look at Isabella (see Alison Weir’s Queen Isabella), and in Queen of Shadows, Felber follows suit. She presents us with a sympathetic picture of a woman, unloved and mistreated by her inadequate, homosexual husband and his overweening favorites, who finally took action in order to save her own life and the throne for her son. Felber uses the device of Gwenith, a Welsh lady-in-waiting with her own agenda, to provide an inside look into Isabella’s life.
Felber, who is known for the romances she writes as Edith Layton, has crafted a competent historical which nevertheless occasionally devolves into a girl-power manifesto with clumsy romantic overtones. Isabella bemoans her subordinate and supposedly helpless situation in a decidedly modern feminist way, and this often jars the reader out of an otherwise capably handled historical. The other sour note is Isabella’s constant, repetitious questioning of Gwenith’s loyalty (although Isabella’s actions denote complete trust) and Gwenith’s equally ubiquitous protestations of faithfulness. The treatment of Isabella’s relationship with Edward is well-done and plausible, and Felber avoids making caricatures of the villains in the story, such as Piers Gaveston and the Despensers. With the exception of the aforementioned oversights, Queen of Shadows is a readable novel about a captivating historical figure and the fascinating times in which she lived.