I’m always looking out for novels about one of my favourite periods in English history, the Wars of the Roses and the reigns of King Edward IV and Richard III. When I came across The Adventures of Alianore Audley, described as “a brilliantly funny, subversive spoof” I was intrigued…it sounded like something very original and refreshing. I was even more interested in reading it when I found that the author Elizabeth Chadwick had named it one of her top ten historical fiction novels!
This book is a lively and entertaining account of the Wars of the Roses as seen through the eyes of Alianore Audley, a fictional 15th century ‘damosel’ who is present at some important moments in history and meets some of the leading historical figures of the period. She has an interesting personal story of her own, involving her marriage to the knight Roger Beauchamp and her career as a spy for Edward IV and Richard III, collecting information for ‘Yorkist Intelligence’, but the main focus of the novel is on Alianore’s sharp and witty observations of the historical events of the time.
The language Alianore and the other characters use is (deliberately) filled with modern slang and references that would sound ridiculous in a serious historical fiction novel, but perfectly suit the tone of this book. Alianore is quite pro-Richard and the way she explains the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower is about as believable as any other theory I’ve read. And if you’re a Ricardian you’ll probably appreciate all of her comments about “the obnoxious Tudor slimebag”, Henry VII, who she wishes she’d dropped down the shaft of the garderobe at birth.
I enjoyed Alianore’s jokes about her hennin (the cone-shaped headdress fashionable at the time) and I loved the idea of Richard reading the Court Circular and looking for his latest war horse in the “Used Destriers” section! Another thing I liked was the way so many parallels are drawn between 15th century and 21st century politics. Alianore is always worrying about Richard’s “image problems” and on another occasion she tells Edward his “ratings in the North have plummeted to their lowest levels since 1469”. I’m going to be completely honest though and say that unlike most of the reviewers of this book on Amazon and Goodreads, I didn’t find it hilariously funny. I did think it was amusing and witty but I suppose a sense of humour is an individual thing and while this book might have made other people laugh out loud it didn’t quite have that effect on me. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it though, because I did.
Despite the light-hearted feel of the writing, it’s obvious that the author has a good knowledge of the period (and I’m sure it’s usually the case that you would need to fully understand a subject to be able to write a convincing parody of it). Although this book was not difficult to read I don’t think I would recommend it as a first introduction to the period because to understand most of the jokes you really need to be familiar with at least some of the history involved. You might still enjoy it, but you wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate all of Alianore’s wit and sarcasm. But if you do decide to give this book a try, I can almost guarantee that it will be unlike any other historical fiction novel you’ve ever read!
One final thing I should mention: The Adventures of Alianore Audley is published by BeWrite Books, who are now an ebook only publisher. You might still be able to get a print copy, but I read the Kindle version which I thought was reasonably priced and well worth the money.