The Importance of Pawns: Chronicles of the House of Valois by Keira Morgan

There are many ways to learn about the history of a particular period, including visiting the setting and reading a specialised historical text that is well-written. For me, however, there is no substitute for a good historical novel and in Keira Morgan’s book, you have just that.

This period and the characters that are depicted in The Importance of Pawns are not any that I have come across before but I would be hard pressed now to forget them. Louise is the archetypal matriarchal figure who wants her son, Francois to achieve but has to engineer it through her own means. She has pride in him but there is also a sense that if he was left solely in charge of his destiny, it would be disastrous. It is up to Louise to orchestrate his succession and seeing how she manipulates others through her plans is the stuff of good historical fiction. She is more than up to the task.

Of course, she has a nemesis who is Michelle, the baronne, confidante of Queen Anne before she passes and a trusted and well-rounded individual who we hope through the course of the book, will have the strength and intelligence to outthink and thwart anything that Louise may throw at her.

I liked the depiction of the court and I think that Morgan has expertly created the tense atmosphere that must have existed for the main players in Renaissance France. The vying for position and the King’s favour is tangible throughout as is the continued drive to be on top. Morgan is also adept at portraying the characters who are not as ambitious but find themselves in this world where they are controlled by their circumstances and must make the best of it, using their guile and finding the courage to stand up to people who are ruthless in their search for success.

Claude, Louis’ and Anne’s daughter, is one who struggles in the environment in which she has been born, having neither glamour nor physical grace to help her maintain her position and in a society where beauty dazzled and held weight, she is up against it. But Morgan is keen to show that with inner resolve and the right guidance, good has a chance. Not a really strong one as resistance will always be found, but a chance nonetheless.

A good historical novel, well-written and paced with believable characters.

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