Book Review: THE ROYAL GAME by Anne O’Brien

Title in white on dark teal with white vine border
Genre: Historical
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: yes?


Book cover for THE ROYAL GAME: title in silver on teal with leaves and roses and swords and crowns around

England, 1444. Three women challenge the course of history…

King Henry VI’s grip on the crown hangs by a thread as the Wars of the Roses starts to tear England apart. And from the ashes of war, the House of Paston begins its rise to power.

Led by three visionary women, the Pastons are a family from humble peasant beginnings who rely upon cunning, raw ambition, and good fortune in order to survive.

Their ability to plot and scheme sees them overcome imprisonment, violence and betrayal, to eventually secure for their family a castle and a place at the heart of the Yorkist Court. But success breeds jealousy and brings them dangerous enemies…

Blurb taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


It has been delightful to return to historical fiction with this book, particularly the late/high medieval period which is my favourite (1380-1485 is my favourite period of English history.) It is one of my goals this year to read more of the genre that really got me into reading as a teen, and THE ROYAL GAME was a great place to start (and has made me excited to continue with the goal!)

Though this novel is set in the tumult of the Wars of the Roses, the upheavals of court and crown, and the many, many battles, do not touch the story much. They are a backdrop that does not often touch the Pastons, save for the loss of a potential patron or enemy. As much as I adore that backstabbing, politicking piece of history, it was so nice to read a book in the period that did not focus on it.

Instead, this is a book about the lower class of the landed gentry (or would-be gentry as they aren’t titled) and their struggles to rise in the world, taking and keeping property. I really enjoyed reading about the ambition and legal battles of this family, their determination to accrue a large estate and keep it feeling like a microcosym of the history of the time.

While there are technically three narrators in this book (Margaret, Elizabeth, Anne), the book is really Margaret, the matriarch of the family. She has the most chapters, marshalling her wits to push and shove those around her (sometimes subtly, sometimes with forthrightness) to her way of thinking. She’s a fascinating woman, running an estate more or less on her own with her husband away so much.

Elizabeth has the odd chapter here and there about the struggles of finding a marriage that’s “suitable”, while Anne only arrives toward the end to slip into the story of the Pastons. She looks like she will be very interesting to see (and more important) in the next book.

I’m pretty sure this is the start of an unofficial series about this family. There is another book by the author almost out (possibly just out?) about the Pastons. However, the book is with a different publisher, so isn’t officially a series on any site (though I am going to regard it as one.)

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