Cover Image: The Royal Game

The Royal Game

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Member Reviews

This was just one of those books that catapulted me into the heart of the story and kept me there throughout! It’s incredibly immersive with detail and I was so intrigued by the plot of this I simply did not want to put it down.
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Margaret Paston is a loyal wife, devoted to promoting her family and supporting her husband.  Although from lowly stock John Paston has a gift for law and an acquisitive nature to drag his family forward.  His sister Eliza despairs of finding a husband, trapped with their abusive mother.  Anne Haute is born into a good family but now that her cousin has become queen, she dreams of more.  Against the backdrop of the 15th century these three woman will deal with whatever fate has to throw at them.
I do enjoy O'Brien's books, even though they are generally a little too romance-focused but this is a slight change of direction.  The writings of the Paston women are used as references to the lives of the gentry during the Wars of the Roses as the women wrote copious letters and many have been preserved.  Here O'Brien has taken the facts from the letters and woven a narrative which stays pretty true to the facts.  It is both a successful historical novel and also an insight into the precarious lives of women during this time.
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I have always been fascinated by this period in history, in particular Richard III.  The events in this book take place during the succession of Edward VI to the throne.  Told from the pov of 3 women and based on genuine letters of the Paston family, this book brings to life the intrigues, power struggles and dangers during the Wars of the Roses.
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One of the things I appreciate most about O’Brien, aside from her meticulous research, is the way that she deftly evades traps that fell lesser historical fiction writers. Her characters are of their time but she never falls into making all the women meek little mice except for the odd anachronistic shrew. Her narrative of the Paston family is layered, intelligently deduced and well balanced. This was a joy to read.
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Sadly this was not my favourite read from O'Brien. The Paston family are extremely interesting and as is mentioned a lot, we are very lucky to have so many letters they have written still in existence. However, I just could not connect to them and I did not really care about what they were going through. They were a bit too much on the outside for me and I struggled to enjoy it. As the book goes on, it does improve and this ends with O'Brien setting up the next book perfectly, I have to say the second book sounds a lot more interesting and maybe this first book was not really needed? At least not in the length it is, it is too long and could have been done succinctly. Still, as always O'Brien creates a wonderful atmosphere and I am looking forward to the next book in the series.
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I love Anne O'Brien books so I was excited to read this one! unfortunately I couldn't even finish it. I managed to get to 32% and decided to DNF as it focuses quite a lot in wealth; I also felt the characters were quite dimensional, which was disappointing since her previous books had very strong females.
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A wonderful depiction of life in the medieval times told by three women whose lives are very much interwoven. This was compulsive reading and my only disappointment is that I have to wait for the follow up to find out what eventually happened to them all. The postscript giving information about where this relates to and where the people are buried gives so much credence to the facts used and  I now just have to go and visit some on these places myself. 
Please hurry up with the follow on to this magnificent book.
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I listened to the audio version of this book - it was brilliantly read!!

My knowledge of the Paston famiy was zero before reading this book, and now I just want to know all I can!! The author has done a wonderful job of conveying their story through 3 very different female characters - from Margaret who takes charge when her family future is threatened, to Eliza who is downtrodden and controlled by her mother but wants to break free, to Anne who is looking for a suitable marriage - you get to see history and family struggles through their eyes and it is enthralling stuff!

You cannot help but be full of admiration for these women and how they dealt with what life threw their way. It really brought to life the struggles of the time, especially of women who were expected to sit quietly and do nothing to rock the boat. Margaret especially wasn't that kind of character, and I just loved her sense of justice even if it meant putting herself in danger. It showed how unfair life was for them due to their sex and it is all played out alongside a turning point for the country with the War of the Roses and all the political upheaval. It was very uncertain times for many, and these women and their personal battles were a wonderful way to explore such an interesting period of history!

A brilliant piece of historical storytelling and I'm already eager to read the sequel!!
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With a title like The Royal Game, you might expect this novel to be about a king or a queen; in fact, it’s the story of the Pastons, who rose from humble origins to become members of the aristocracy and one of Norfolk’s most influential families during the 15th century. Their collection of personal letters, known as the Paston Letters, is the largest archive of private correspondence surviving from the period and tells us a lot about life in England at that time.

The Pastons’ story is retold by Anne O’Brien in fictional form, using the letters as a guide. She has chosen to focus on three characters in particular: Margaret Mautby Paston, wife of John Paston, who becomes head of the family after the death of his father; John’s sister Elizabeth (known as Eliza); and Anne Haute, a cousin of Edward IV’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville. There are chapters written from the perspectives of each of these women, mainly Margaret and Eliza at first, with Anne only introduced halfway through and becoming more prominent towards the end of the book.

During the period covered in the novel, the Wars of the Roses are playing out in the background as the House of Lancaster and the House of York fight for control of England’s throne. The Pastons are an ambitious family who see the changing political situation in terms of what it will mean for them and how they can turn things to their own advantage in order to increase their wealth and power. This means that much of the story is concerned with the gaining and losing of properties and land, disputes over wills and controversies surrounding inheritances. In particular, estates left to John Paston by his patron Sir John Fastolf (the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Falstaff), become the subject of a long legal battle.

I liked this book much more than Anne O’Brien’s previous one, The Queen’s Rival, partly because this one is written in a more straightforward format – although with the alternating narrators I mentioned above. I felt that the narrative voices of Margaret and Eliza were very similar and sometimes I had to remind myself which one I was reading about, but this was less of a problem as I got further into the book. Margaret is portrayed as a strong, intelligent and resourceful woman working alongside her husband to hold on to the family property, while Eliza is being badly treated by her mother and desperately hoping for marriage as a way of escape. Eventually, both women find themselves with the same focus in life: to protect their children’s titles and inheritances from jealous rivals who are trying to claim them for themselves. Our third narrator, Anne Haute, who is depicted as another young woman with ambition and hopes of an advantageous marriage, seems unconnected to the other two at first, but quickly becomes drawn into the Pastons’ world.

The Wars of the Roses is one of my favourite historical periods to read about and it made a nice change to move away from the usual novels set at the royal court or on the battlefields and see what was going on elsewhere in the country at that time. I enjoyed this book but it’s very long and detailed and I was surprised when I reached a cliffhanger ending and discovered that there’s going to be a sequel. I'm looking forward to it, to see what happens next to the Paston family.
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Unfortunately, I was unable to read this book as  I didn't manage to download it to my mobile.

What a pity!  Wishing you lots of success with the book.
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Anne O'Brien is becoming my favourite author of historical fiction. I like that she brings the lesser known, female characters to life on the page.

I was particularly interested in reading about the lives of the Paston women and the history of Norfolk as its a part of the country close to my heart. I'm very much looking forward to reading the next book too.
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The Royal Game - Anne O’Brien

Oh I’ve loved this book, I love historical fiction and especially that set in the medieval era.

This story follows the Paston family who were a real family in the 1400’s. Landowners in Norfolk, many of their letters have survived to give us a wonderfully intimate portrait of their life and goings on at this time.
The characters are all well fleshed out and I really felt that you could hear their voices speaking out from the page. There are so many brilliant details of life at this time and I hoovered this one up!
Margaret, an heiress marries young into the Paston family and brings with her lands of her own at Gresham. These are taken by Moleyns another ‘gent’ and we follow how they attempt to reclaim their land through the courts and through the Royal Court. This is happening at a time of real upheaval in England at the start of the Wars of the Roses when Henry VI is incapable of ruling.
It is so brilliant to see this through the eyes of ‘normal people’ albeit landowners and also how slowly news travels and the effect it has on everyday life.

There are a lot of battles to seize power and advancement for the Paston family to raise themselves high in standing, it feels at times like it is two steps forward and one step back. It is so important to the Pastons to gain and keep lands as with this comes status and the chance to make good marriages for children. We see all this through the women of the family, how they hold everything together, the struggles they face in this time, how little power they have but how much strength they show in the face of disaster, births, death and disease.

I found this a great read, focused on women, insightful and compelling. I’m really looking forward to the next instalment of the Paston families lives.

✩✩✩✩
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I believe this is maybe the start of a trilogy about the Norfolk-based Paston family using a collection of detailed letters left behind.  It focusses on several of the Paston women, the family's problems with keeping hold of their land against the backdrop of the Wars of the Roses.  Definitely highlights the rise and fall of that York/Lancaster period.  Another wonderful book from Anne O'Brien.  Despite getting this early read from Netgalley, I will be buying my own copy.
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This is the first book by Anne O’Brien that I have read.

In this book, we follow the Paston family who were from Norfolk. It is set in the 15th century prior to the War of the Roses.

The author does an amazing job of writing historical characters. They are so well developed.
This book is well written, however it did take me a little while to get into it. 
I really enjoyed reading from this time period.
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This is the tale of three women and their interconnected lives in the fifteenth century.I am a fan of the author and really wanted to enjoy it but sadly found the plot ,such as it was, too slow and the characters a little one-dimensional .
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I read about the Paston letters many years ago, but it wasn’t until I moved to Norfolk six years ago, that I became interested in the history of this county. After reading about Julian of Norwich and Margery Kemp, I was delighted to read more about this fascinating  Paston family and Margarets letters. 
These letters look at Mediaeval England via a domestic route. We read about a family beset with inheritance problems, and their fight to keep their estates and wealth, depending upon which ruler sat upon the throne. Battles fought and awards given, could easily be taken away the next day, month or year, depending upon who has the King’s ear at that time. The constant struggle to be of service to the Crown, whilst trying to find money to live, and pay for retainers, whilst protecting your family, were matters that prayed on most minds in those times. 
Margaret Mautby married John Paston from Norfolk. She brought him a dowry of £150 yearly and properties. They both expended much energy over the years protecting, losing and regaining said properties, depending upon the wishes of the Royal Court and the avaricious Duke's of Norfolk and Suffolk, who wanted to add these properties to their own portfolio. 
We read about domestic matters in these letters, the births of children , their care and education. The shopping in market places and waiting for goods to arrive at the local docks. The furnishings and fashions were well described, I must admit my dictionary was well used some evenings, some of these words could not be guessed at!! The meals and household cures for illness and stain removals, give me a Vanish bar any day, not so lethal. We note that the majority of attention was directed towards the boys and menfolk, women were truly pawns to be used in the marriage stakes, even the dowries given, sometimes didn’t find their rightful place with the females. 
I was so intrigued by the constant mention of little places, near where I live, that had such a great importance in those times! I was constantly looking at Google maps, trying to find these long lost buildings, this book has given me many pleasant evenings of exploration! One comment in particular made me laugh, it was quoted that the ‘ journey from Norwich to London takes five days’. We, who live here feel exactly the same, not having any motorways and only limited dual carriageways!! I was surprised to read that Acle was such an important place, the number of delays on the Acle Straight these days, it must have been faster to have travelled all those centuries ago!! 
This book is very well researched and authentic, you can hear the voices of these Paston ladies, feel their hopes, desires and fears the more you read. They weren’t shrinking violets either, facing down armed men in a siege, planning the care of a husband when he was away from home, either at Court or in prison, looking after the workers, protecting the land and their good names. 
My plans after reading this book is to go on an exploration of these small places associated with Margaret Paston. Caister Castle is not too far away, Acle and Bungay, I visit on a regular basis. St. Benets Abbey, I know as the title of a detective novel only. I wonder if Uncle Berney has some connection to a windmill so named? 
As you can see, I am making plans to explore Norfolk, using the place names in this book. It promises to be fun. I am looking forward to the next novel in this series, and I hope I shall be lucky in getting another copy.
My thanks go to HQ books and HarperCollins UK, also Netgalley for my ARC, in exchange for my honest unbiased review, that is freely given . A five star read for me. I will leave reviews to Goodreads and other outlets later.
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A new take on the Wars of the Roses. The story of the women in the influential Paston family from Norfolk, based on their surviving letters. Set during the war between the houses of York and Lancaster, the women were mostly pawns in the marriage game, while the men decided which side to support. Margaret was the strongest character, cleverly keeping control of husband and the rest of her family and household. So glad the women's  letters survived so that Anne O'Brien could tell us about them.
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Anne O'Brien is one of my favourite authors. Every year, I wait with high anticipation to read her newest book and to see which 'new' unknown woman of history she's brought to life for her readers. 

With The Royal Game, Anne O'Brien has chosen not a powerful royal/noblewoman but instead three women who hunger to be considered as such. The majority of the story is told from the viewpoint of Margaret Paston, wife to John Paston, as property disputes amongst their landed estates escalate and are resolved only to escalate once more. This might sound a bit boring, but believe me, it's not. I was shocked, genuinely shocked, by the level of violence that could be brought to bear against rival claimants and the state of lawlessness in East Anglia at the time is flabbergasting. It acts as a perfect way of showing just what the uncertainty of the Wars of the Roses brought about for those lower 'noble' families with the ebb and flow of prestige and royal denouncement as in the background, great battles are won and lost, and rival kings fall and rise.

Margaret is a wonderfully independently minded woman, and yet constrained by her position in life, and her sex so she can only do so much when trouble strikes, but she will do it to her upmost.

Alongside Margaret, we meet her sister in law, Eliza, who struggles to find a husband and emerge from beneath her mother's less than motherly love. She manages to do just that only to find herself facing a life as beset with lawsuits as her brother and sister by marriage. 

Our third Paston woman is  Anne Haute, a cousin to Elizabeth Woodville. Her voice is that of a noblewoman without the dowry needed to hook herself a wonderful marriage, but who can tout her family connections to gain one.

This book is a stunning read - and more, an easy read - despite the vast number of Johns in it (I'll leave that for you to discover because wow - that's a weird thing to have done). I had to force myself to slow down and stop reading because I didn't want it to be over. Now I have to wait for next year to read the second part of the story.

I highly recommend this book. If you know about the Wars of the Roses, all the better, but if you don't, it will not lessen your enjoyment of the story of the three Paston women and their troublesome, and litigious family at a time of intense political unrest.

Thank you to Netgalley and the Publisher for my review copy. I loved it:)
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I have only read one of Anne’s books before this one - The Queens Rival - which I absolutely loved. I jumped at the chance of reading an advance copy of Anne’s new book and to be a part on the blog tour. 

Anne’s skill for writing historical fiction with characters you get to know in depth and places you can see is second to none. Again I was lost in the rich history of the time and living the lives with these people. It is clear Anne has a very in depth knowledge and interest of history and her love for writing shines through the pages.

In this novel we follow the Pastons. Just as Anne’s last book is mainly focussed on the strong female character of Cecily Neville this one has a strong main focus on Margaret Mautby Paston who has married into the Paston family following the usual arrangement by the two families which will benefit both sides. She becomes such a strong lady, having to deal with battles, wars, births and deaths, illness and the constant fight to hold on to the family property and assets for her place in society and her children’s inheritance.

These are the Middle Ages. In the years leading up to The Wars of The Roses. Families marry their children off for status and wealth. Perhaps love will blossom perhaps not, as this is not the reason to marry. Women are expected to produce heirs to the family estate. People have to be careful when discussing the Yorks and the Lancasters as they dare not be seen to be on the wrong side. 

The second lady we hear from is Elizabeth Paston who has not had a suitable marriage arranged and worries about her future constantly as the years are passing along with her hope of finding a suitable husband.

The last ‘main’ character is Anne Haute who is also hoping for a suitable marriage and sets her hopes on marrying into the Paston family.

The Pastons were prolific letter writers and it is fortunate many of their letters have survived to this day to tell the first hand stories of life and all its troubles during the 1400’s. 

I am now looking forward to Anne’s next book where she will follow the Pastons.
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Once again Anne O’Brien has shown what a wonderful historian and brilliant storyteller she is.

Focusing on the very strong women in the Paston family, O’Brien gives us an insight as to how hard these woman worked and how ferocious they were to protect their families and properties.

The story starts with Margaret Mautby, a young heiress, who marries into the Paston family.  Her husband, John, is the third generation of Pastons and has come a long way since his grandfather’s day.  John’s mother Agnes is a woman of great character, not all of it good, and she soon locks horns with Margaret.  Needless to say she meets her match!

Although the marriage between John and Margaret was not a love match, their mutual respect for each other overrides that and love of a sort does develop.  Though frankly I have no idea how she managed to support him in some of his endeavours, he was a strong minded man with little regard for anyone who did not think his way.  Margaret must have been a saint!

The story continues with the ups and downs of the Pastons and their extended family, with countless obstacles along the way.

This book is totally captivating and the next part of the story will be eagerly awaited.

Thank you NetGalley.
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