“ Zanghellini (The Sexual Constitution of Political Authority, 2015) imagines the personal life and loves of English King Edward II in this work of historical fiction.
In 1308, 12-year-old Queen Isabella of France comes to England to marry its king, Edward II. However, on u night of the wedding, Edward—a decade her senior—assures her that he won’t consummate the marriage until she’s an adult. Isabella then meets the king’s best friend, Sir Piers Gaveston, Earl of Cornwall. The two men have a friendship that makes other nobles at the English court whisper. “My husband the King is always quite full of life, from what I can judge,” Isabella observes, “but never so much as when he’s with the Earl.” Edward met Piers, the dashing son of a Gascon banneret, when the former was only 15. He succeeded to the throne with Piers as his lover and closest adviser, although the relationship—and the power it grants Piers—draws the ire of Edward’s earls. They scheme to banish Piers, but when the king thwarts their wishes, they find a more permanent, and deadly, solution. In the aftermath of Piers’ murder, his memory—perhaps even his ghost—haunts Edward, who must find a way to rule a country that doesn’t understand him. Zanghellini writes in a deliberative, detailed prose style throughout that illuminates the historical record while also imbuing his characters with agency and urgency: “He didn’t try to explain to her that sinking to the bottom of the sea, clutching Piers to his heart, seemed far more desirable to him than any number of alternative fates likely to await them if Lancaster and the others had their way.” Although some readers may find the central relationship of the novel to be a bit too idealized, the author also creates a complex, engrossing character in Isabella, who serves to ground the narrative; her observations give readers a clear window into the life of an unusual medieval monarch. Overall, the book should please aficionados of historical fiction—particularly those who are interested in the things that history books usually leave out.
An expansive, immersive look at Edward II.”
And here’s PUBLISHERS WEEKLY’s review:
“Zanghellini unpacks the romantic and political complications of England’s Edward II in his intriguing debut work of fantasy-inflected historical fiction. At age 15, Prince Edward falls hard for teasingly impertinent, handsome Piers Gaveston. Their romance blossoms into a church-sanctioned sworn brotherhood that Zanghellini recounts in a satisfying combination of erotic and tender moments. The earls bristle at Piers’s undue influence over Edward and collude to have Piers banished twice, but Edward uses royal power to bring him home. After the earls successfully conspire to kill Piers, Edward enters a long mourning period and nightly communes with his lover’s silent ghost. In his search for revenge, Edward misguidedly enters a dalliance with Hugh Audley that ends with betrayal and cascading political complications. As Edward struggles to contain the earls and foreign threats, he seeks comfort from indiscreet nobleman Hugh Despenser. Edward’s final undoing comes through the rebellion led by his much more competent and touchingly rendered wife, French princess Isabella. Zanghellini’s modern sensibilities do not overwhelm period touches, though his pacing sometimes lurches. Readers seeking tales of gay historical figures will be very pleased with this fully developed tale.”
Thank you to the anonymous reviewers of Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, I am thrilled you enjoyed The Spellbinders!