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Book Review:The Rebel Princess by Judith Koll Healey

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The Rebel Princess tells the story of Princess Alais of France, the daughter of King Louis VII and his second wife Queen Constance. Alais’ early life at the British court of King Henry II has been well documented in other novels, typically because it is much juicier and more compelling than the events after she left, so it was a little refreshing to see something about the latter part of the princess’ life. The more “tabloid worthy” events of her early years were likely documented in The Rebel Princess‘ predecessor The Canterbury Papers, which, admittedly, I haven’t read. When I picked up this book, it wasn’t really obvious that the two had any connection other than the same author (it doesn’t say anything about being a direct sequel). While it helps to have the added exposition to better understand the characters and their motives, it was actually very easy to get into and there were enough references to previous events to get up to speed on the previous novel.

After Alais left England, she returned to live at the court of her brother, King Phillippe of France. Alais is surprised when Phillippe asks her advice on a note to stay out of the affairs of Toulouse, where his cousin, a rival king, rules. Phillipe is caught up in the religious wars of the time, while Alais defies her betrothed, William, and rides out into the country in search of answers about her missing aunt. Alais uncovers unexpected plots to change the political structure of France.

The Rebel Princess can be a little cumbersome for some readers. The writing style is very flowery and elegant, with an emphasis on capturing dialog and details that accurately reflect the period. While this is great for history buffs, it’s a little difficult for more casual readers who want to just enjoy a book without having to study it too much. I’m not a big fan of the highly accurate period dialog, mostly because I end up having to read it multiple times and, okay, I’m a little impatient. I typically just want to know what’s going to happen next and don’t want to get bogged down by weighty old-school dialog. It’s spot-on for readers who enjoy the approach, but I’m not one of them. Sadly, the dialog hurt the story’s pacing, many times slowing it to a painful crawl.

The romance aspect is also a major element in the novel, but focuses more on sweetness than steaminess. For the most part it felt natural and made sense, and works for historical romance fans. I was, however, more captivated by the exploration of Alais’ love for her family and court politics than a romantic relationship.

Rebel Princess is a decent novel for hard-core history fans, but if you’re looking for a thrilling historical mystery or a juicy historical romance, this isn’t the book for you.

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