The Fair Maid of Kent
Joan of Kent is a fascinating historical figure. Newark’s novel covers the early part of her life. Joan is cousin to the reigning Edward III, brought up at his court after her father was executed for treason. The child Joan is rescued from a fire by Thomas Holand, a king’s man but a mere commoner. Smitten, he convinces her a few years later to agree to a clandestine marriage. While Holand is away in the wars, Joan’s mother insists she marry William, son of the Earl of Salisbury. Bowing to family pressure, Joan manages to deceive William into believing that she is still a virgin. But Thomas returns and petitions the Church to uphold his claim as Joan’s true husband.
While Joan’s life is fascinating, this novel doesn’t do her story justice. None of the characters are appealing. Even if historical figures weren’t likeable in life, it doesn’t make for a very compelling novel if the reader can’t identify with someone. The men are lecherous or brutal, the supporting female characters shrewish, and Joan herself prevaricates with the wind. The historical bones of Joan’s story enticed me to finish the book, but I regret to say I can’t recommend it.