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The Rebel Princess (Alais Capet) Paperback – June 22, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
In this sequel to Healy's debut (The Canterbury Papers), set in 13th-century France, King Phillippe's sister, Princess Alaïs, is surprised by his request for advice regarding a mysterious note warning him to stay out of the affairs of Toulouse, where his cousin Raymond rules. When the pope's envoy arrives, begging Philippe to help fight a proto-Protestant religious sect called the Cathars in Raymond's territory, Philippe refuses—besides the warning, Philippe carries a grudge against Pope Innocent. When Alaïs's aunt Constance, along with a palace treasure, disappears, Alaïs defies the wishes of her betrothed, William, a Knight Templar, and rides southward with a few trusted knights to find answers and, maybe, a resolution to the conflict. Uncovering the plot against Toulouse, Alaïs is commanding but not stubborn, and Healey uses sumptuous detail to explore the courtly lives of spiritually frustrated medieval women; unfortunately, tedium sets in as it becomes clear that the princess's every hunch will turn out to be right. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Healey uses sumptuous detail to explore the courtly lives of spiritually frustrated medieval women.” (Publishers Weekly)
“A fast-paced historical mystery with plenty of suspense and intrigue....Healey does a fantastic job.” (Historical Novels Review)
“A seamless blend of history and fiction, and a gripping read.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune on The Rebel Princess)
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Top customer reviews
In this novel, set in 1207, several years after the events of the first book, Princess Alais of France is at her brother's court in Paris when he receives a mysterious warning not to interfere -- as the Pope has requested -- in the affairs of the quasi-independent domains in the south overseen by Count Raymond of Toulouse. Throw in a vanishing chalice and the apparent kidnapping of Alais's son by Henry Plantagenet, the late king of England (his parentage still unknown to anyone but Alais and her lover, the Templar leader William of Caen) after a tragic tournament, and before long, Alais has hotfotted it down to the southern provinces. Once there, she becomes entangled with the efforts of religious leaders, led by an evil abbot, to stamp out the emerging Cathar 'heresy'.
The events around which the author has built what she calls a 'romance' (in the classic, medieval troubador sense of the word -- "tales of mystery, adventure and love" in the author's words) were real, and dramatic. Thousands were killed in what became known as the Albigensian crusade when at the Pope's behest, monks and northern barons took the lead in combatting the Cathars and their theological challenge to Rome as well as their de facto challenge to the lavish and corrupt lives lived by many bishops and other religious leaders of the 12th and 13th centuries. But this book, which doesn't really pick up the pace enough to engage the reader until nearly halfway through, doesn't do justice to those events. Major plot elements, like the missing chalice, seem to be there as mere decoration rather than as a way to move the story forward or show how the characters are developing or changing. There are contradictions within pages of each other (Constance of Toulouse is said to have claimed she knows where the chalice is in exchange for a ransom, only a page after saying she tried to claim it but that it was stolen) that mount up as the book proceeds and become irritating. And the throwaway usage of French phrases to remind the reader that the events are taking place in France is downright absurd in the level of artificiality it creates; every so often the author throws in a 'palais' or "toilettage", "carte" (instead of map), or sûreté (in place of safety) in a way that sounds extremely unnatural and stilted and may even send some readers scurrying for a dictionary to make sure they haven't missed something. (When the French words are only for effect, they disrupt the narrative and make it harder for a reader to immerse himself or herself in the story.) Sometimes, both what is said and how it's said is equally unconvincing, as when Alais's chidlhood friend, Joanna, comments, "Cathar? Moi? Don't be amusing, Alais. I cannot abide religion in any form."
In any novel, something that pulls the reader away from the story and forces him or her to puzzle out a piece of bad or confusing writing, reconcile the events the author is describing with what the reader knows of a subject or in any other way interrupts the sheer joy of following a story from start to finish is disruptive and disappointing. When it happens repeatedly in the same book, it makes that book harder to read and less enjoyable. Here, the awkward writing (Philippe, the king of France, has a "questing expression") is just part of the problem. A bigger issue for some historical fiction fans to swallow will be the anachronisms and inaccuracies, from large to small. I don't have a problem with an author interpreting known facts in creative ways to make a great work of fiction, or filling in the giant gaps that often exist in those known facts in ways that are plausible and convincing. (After all, that's what made possible some really great historical novels set in medieval Europe, such as Sharon Kay Penman's sagas or Anya Seton's classic, Katherine.) In this case, the author commits nearly all the mistakes that a historical fiction novelist can, when she didn't need to do so in order to convey either a sense of period or to move her plot forward. Her characters, across the board, display beliefs that that are out of line with the culture of the time, and the book is full of anachronisms. (Velvet wasn't known in the European courts until specialized looms were developed around 1300; so velvet bedhangings would have been impossible.) I'm not even referring to major issues, such as the fact that the historical Alais was married, a middle-aged mother to a few daughters and countess of the Vexin by this time, or that Joanna of Toulouse had been dead for nearly a decade by the time of the events in the story. It's the cumulative effect of the sometimes ponderous and often awkward writing, the historical errors and anachronisms, etc. that has led me to award this only 2.5 stars, rounded up out of nostalgia for her first book, which I did find to be a gripping read that transcended the flaws that in the sequel have become all-too apparent. And even if I could ignore those, the abrupt end (I actually wondered if a chapter hadn't been included in my Kindle copy of the book!) to the story -- which presumably marks the fact that the author is preparing a sequel -- was far too jarring to be respectful to readers.
This book, while set in an earlier age, may appeal to those readers who enjoyed Posie Graeme-Evans' trilogy set in the 15th century (The Innocent: A Novel), due to the same kind of mixture of adventure and history, the presence of alternatives to orthodox religion, and the cheerful disregard for historical fact in the pursuit of fiction. But I'd advise anyone who likes historical accuracy and eloquent writing to look elsewhere. If you crave well-written historical mysteries set in a similar period, take a look at the four books written by Sharon Penman, such as The Queen's Man: A Medieval Mystery (Medieval Mysteries), which are truly suspenseful, historically true to life and engagingly written. Or you could seek out the lively, colorful (and accurate and well-crafted) historical novels by Elizabeth Chadwick, some of which are now being released in the US.
Set against the build up of the crusade against the Cathars in the Langue d'Oc of what is now southern France, the story moves between the royal court in Paris, and the Cathar strongholds of the south.
Koll Healey weaves real historical figures into the story, which is a romance/mystery/adventure. It is important to remember it is fiction.
Much of the action depends on very contrived coincidences - and on a couple of occasions frankly ludicrous "Famous Five" type scenarios of overhearing baddies plotting, and even a hidden dungeon!
It's escapist nonsense, but enjoyable, the second half more so than the first. Act I has some pretty tedious scene-setting and faux-formal language; Act II rollicks along as chase is given across the south, heros endangered, and our fiesty heroine turning the tables on all the derry-doing blokes!
Where to start? This was a very, very, very long read for me. I would start reading it and stop, then repeat the exercise for the next month and a half.
For me, reading this historical fiction which, mind you, was very well written and full of many, many historical events, was pure torture.
It might be (but I doubt it) because I hadn't read the book before it, THE CANTERBURY PAPERS. Or it might be too much of history and not enough of fiction; but whatever it was, I wasn't able to connect to it. That doesn't mean that you'll fail to connect as well. Your tastes might lead you to love it.
I'll blame my personal taste, and not the style of writing or the prose, that caused me to disconnect with the protagonists and the story itself.
In all honesty, I can't recommend it to romance lovers; BUT I can to all you history buffs, and for that reason alone I'm giving this novel Four Roses. I'll be glad to pass it along to someone that would appreciate it more than I did.