Book Reviews

Review: A Marriage Made in Secret

Another gorgeous historical romance from Jenni Fletcher – this time, full of medieval intrigue!

Book: A Marriage Made in Secret by Jenni Fletcher

Publication date: 24th June 2021

Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by the author. All opinions my own.

She must choose …her queen—or love!

As the queen’s new lady-in-waiting, Mathilde Gosselin tumbles straight into Parisian palace intrigue when she meets courtier Henry Wright, who she discovers is a spy! Mathilde’s loyalties are now divided—between this enigmatic, courageous man and her queen. And amid the turmoil, her falling for the unsuitable, illegitimate Henry means they’ve no choice but to hide their new love from the world…

A Marriage Made in Secret is one of the most unique historical romances I’ve read, combining the true historical story of Queen Isabella’s stand against her husband Edward II with a beautiful fictional romance between one of her ladies in waiting and one of his spies. It’s wide-ranging in scope, rather than being narrowed down on one couple, and makes full use of a fascinating period of time to create a dramatic but realistic romance that I devoured in one sitting. There’s political intrigue, tested loyalties, an abundance of strong women – and of course, plenty of beautiful swoony moments!

The first thing that hit me about this book is how meticulously researched it is – the author’s note goes into some detail about the dangers of including real life figures and events in a fictional story, and I thought the depiction of Isabella’s court was beautifully done. I adore stories of ladies-in-waiting and the intrigue they get drawn into, so Mathilde’s journey from new girl at court to Isabella’s trusted companion was right up my street. I loved the depiction of Isabella that we got – she’s a woman much maligned by history, and while this doesn’t try to make her out to be an angel, it does make an effort to humanise her. She’s a secondary character here, but she looms behind Mathilde’s story in such a realistic way – she’s inescapable, but she’s also just one woman. The simmering tensions of court life and the strong female friendships are so well-drawn, and wouldn’t be out of place in a chunky ‘literary’ historical novel. I’d actually say that this is slightly heavier on the historical content than the romance! I also want to mention how fabulous it was to see such strong older women depicted, particularly Katharine and Cecily, Mathilde’s fellow ladies-in-waiting, whose fierce but tender love for each other (whether platonic or romantic – it’s left open to interpretation, but I know I what I think!) is beautifully shown.

I loved how Mathilde and Henry’s relationship grew over the years. It’s much more of a slow-burn than romance can sometimes be, taking place over six years, and I really loved how practical they both were about the dangers of getting into a relationship – perhaps that doesn’t sound very romantic in a world of insta-love, but if you’re like me and enjoy a good bit of pining (not to mention a heroine who won’t throw her life away for love), you’ll have a great time! There’s plenty of chemistry between them, and more than that, they seem like a great match for each other in terms of friendship and life goals too. The majority of the issues in their relationship are caused by external factors, and this brings a real sense of poignancy to the story; how many couples have had their romance ruined by the wheels of history? It’s so rewarding to see Henry and Mathilde finally get their happy ending (and some peace and quiet!) after having to snatch so many brief moments of joy together.

As usual, you can’t go wrong with Jenni’s books if you’re looking for a well-researched, emotionally engaging read, and I think this one will appeal to fans of straight historical fiction as well as historical romance. I’d love more books like this! Five out of five cats!

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