The Prince of Poison
The trilogy of novels by Pamela Kaufman about Alix of Wanthwaite, a woman who disguises herself as a boy, goes on crusade with a rather lascivious Richard the Lion Heart, and becomes entangled in the Plantagenet family’s endless schemes began with the offbeat and delightfully satirical Shield of Three Lions. Alix’s further adventures were explored in Banners of Gold, where her duels with her Scottish love, Enoch, are spiced by madcap events leading to her becoming pregnant by none other than— Well, it would be unfair to give away the details, as the uninitiated who are interested would be wise to read the first two novels before attempting to navigate this third and final installment, The Prince of Poison.
Kaufman does not waste time filling in back-story as she plunges us into Alix’s struggle to safeguard her newborn son from the titular poisonous royal, John, and his mother, the manipulative and ubiquitous Eleanor of Aquitaine. Alix’s harrowing escape from France holds a moment of glee echoing the previous novels when she befriends two orphaned ducks. However, her return to England and to Enoch heralds tragedy and tribulation, as she faces deep personal loss and joins a rebellion in vengeance to destroy King John.
Readers who know their English medieval history are no doubt aware of how John ended up in actuality; Kaufman’s speculations offer an intriguing perspective, nevertheless. However, the conclusion of this series tends toward the somber. It lacks both the arch-humor and sheer joie de vivre of past installments, and a tendency to short-hand descriptions and overuse of exclamation points stultifies the prose at moments. Still, Alix remains at heart a heroine of spirit and independence, a medieval woman who proves to be more than a match for her enemies and her era.