Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Cup of Ghosts - a review

The Cup of Ghosts by Paul Doherty

Well I managed to finish this book sooner than I thought I would!

The Cup of Ghosts is the first book in a series telling the story of Isabella of France's lady-in-waiting, Mathilde. The story covers the period immediately prior to Isabella's wedding to Edward II, king of England, in Boulogne through to the weeks after her coronation in Westminster. The plot is largely based on primary sources from the 14th century, which reflects the author's academic interests (he obtained a doctorate from Oxford for his thesis on Edward II and Queen Isabella).

The book is slow to start. To begin with you feel you will be reading Mathilde's train of consciousness, and I found the moments where she interrupts her dialogue to berate herself frustrating. Thankfully Doherty eventually relaxes into his more usual story telling style. The storyline has been very well researched and at times you do feel Doherty is over doing the facts, describing in great detail the clothes and ceremonies, down to the different fabrics used in Isabella's gowns. The slow pace of the book can also be annoying as the book covers a very short period of time in great depth. You feel as if Doherty relates almost every meal Isabella attended in a 12 month period!

Despite the slow pace and the over attention to detail the book is worth reading. I'm not a great fan of historical political fiction (endless negotiations, banquets and ceremonies can be a little tedious after a while) but thankfully there is also a murder mystery element in the book, even if the murder mystery is historically accurate. There is plenty of sleuthing, bodies and intrigue to satisfy.

This series is some what of a departure from his other two series set in Medieval England. Instead of using the history of the period as a backdrop for the action, he uses the history as the actual story. It certainly is a great book if you want to learn about this period in English royal history. A slow starter but worth sticking with.

3 Stars


Susan Higginbotham said...

I'm looking forward to reading this one. It's finally gone on sale at Amazon USA, but won't be here until another month or so! Have you read his Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II?

Self Confessed Walkover said...

Thanks for leaving a comment Susan! I did try to read Isabella and the Strange Death of Edward II once but couldn't get into it. However I do think I ought to try it again, as your tastes always change :) Besides it will help me put this current series in context. Thank you so much for the suggestion, it is very much appreciated!

Susan Higginbotham said...

Any time!

If you like medieval mysteries, you might also try Michael Jecks' books. I tried reading one, but I must not have been in the mood for it at the time. They're pretty popular, though.

Alison Weir has written a biography of Queen Isabella that's pretty good also.