There is something refreshing about reading a historical novel set in a somewhat unusual place or country. Today’s guest, Amy Maroney, has written several such books (and she and I share a bit of a passion for the long-gone kingdoms that once straddled the Pyrennees) so it isn’t exactly a surpirse to discover The Queen’s Scribe is set in 15th century Cyprus. I know very little about 15th century Cyprus, but I do know there are no leopards in Cyprus, which led to a long coughing session when, in fact, a leopard chases after a deet and tumbles to its death over a cliff. Turns out the kings of Cyprus imported leopards to use them in their hunts – and being a writer myself, I really enjoyed how Amy used that little factoid. I can sort of imagine her coming across a mention of a leopard and going “Leopards? In Cyprus? No, that cannot be right!” which led to hours and hours of research – and like two paragraphs in her book 🙂
Further down, you’ll find my review of The Queen’s Scribe – and yes, I was pretty wowed. Before the review, however, Amy has been kind enough to write a little guestpost, outlining teh historical background of her book. With that, I turn things over to Amy!
Queen Charlotta of Cyprus, a fighting queen
One of the magical parts about being an author is finding an idea for a novel in the pages of a history book. When I stumbled across a mention of Queen Charlotta of Cyprus while researching the Knights Hospitaller of medieval Rhodes and Cyprus, I was immediately captivated.
Digging deeper, I was astounded by my findings. In 1458, the fifteen-year-old, widowed Queen Charlotta ascended the throne of the Kingdom of Cyprus, Armenia, and Jerusalem (the latter two designations were titular only). She then survived her power-hungry half-brother’s massive siege and—when her second husband Louis of Savoy proved a weak leader—sailed around the Mediterranean entreating allies to help save her crown.
This courageous young woman haunted my dreams, igniting my imagination in a way that can only end with a novel. So I resolved to bring her to life with my new book, The Queen’s Scribe.
Though her father, King Jean, was a Frenchman born into the Lusignan dynasty, her mother, Eleni Palaiologina, was a strong-willed Greek woman who ardently fought the “Latin” influence of her husband’s court. Under her mother’s influence, Charlotta grew up as a Greek girl. She never learned much French.
But when Charlotta was married to Prince João of Portugal at fourteen, she was forced to communicate in French (their common language). Her need for trusted French interpreters would only grew stronger as time went on and she was forced to seek assistance from Western allies such as the Knights Hospitaller, the Pope, and the king of France.
After the 1457 murder of her husband, Prince João, Charlotta faced a new betrothal. Her fiancé was her first cousin, Louis of Savoy. In the Greek Orthodox tradition, the marriage of first cousins doomed the bride and groom to hell. Being Greek, Charlotta’s mother naturally opposed the union. But as soon as she died, the marriage was on.
Fortune’s wheel turned again when King Jean died shortly after his wife (whether it was due to natural causes or poison was a matter of dispute). Grieving, teenaged Charlotta ascended the throne, her father’s council members guiding her toward their interests just as they had done with her father. Meanwhile, her half-brother, Jacco, gained the favor of the Sultan of Egypt, raised an army, and attacked Cyprus. Charlotta would spend the rest of her days fighting to preserve her throne.
To tell Charlotta’s story, I developed the concept of a fictional French heroine serving the queen as a skilled interpreter and scribe. I already had the perfect protagonist in mind: Estelle de Montavon, daughter of a French falconer, starred in a tale I wrote for an anthology a few years ago, and she played a minor role in my novel Island of Gold.
A talented scribe and linguist, Estelle becomes invaluable in The Queen’s Scribe when the royal court retreats to Kyrenia Fortress and a civil war looms between the queen and Jacco. As Queen Charlotta voyages across the Mediterranean Sea beseeching French-speaking allies for help, Estelle is at her side, witnessing every triumph and disaster along the way.
This extraordinary queen’s ambition and courage burned intensely, but too briefly. Like so many other women whose stories have been largely forgotten, she has been lost for too long in the mists of history.
I hope that The Queen’s Scribe plays a role in bringing Charlotta of Lusignan back into the light.
Thank you for that, Amy – and I think your lovely book deffo brings Charlotta out of obscurity – without necessarily making her all nice and sweet.
My review of The Queen’s Scribe
There is something very special about coming across a book that has you wanting to know more: more about the period, more about the protagonists, more about the actual setting. The Queen’s Scribe is one such book, and this reader tumbles about like a joyful dolphin while reading up on everything from the Venetian colonies in the Mediterranean to the medieval history of Cyprus.
Of course, the fact that I feel compelled to do all that reading is a reflection of just how immersive Ms Maroney’s book is. In Ms Maroney’s book, Cyprus is hot, it is opulent. It is a hotbed of political machination, of seething ambition and darkest betrayal. Enter Estelle, a young Frenchwoman who comes to Cyprus to tutor the teenaged Princess Charlotta in French. After all, the princess is about to wed again—she is only fifteen but already a widow—and her future hubby is Louis of Savoy, who expects his wife to speak his language as he has no inclination to learn hers.
Things quickly become very complicated, People die. Charlotta is suddenly queen and Estelle—who so far has been treated with open disdain and dislike by Charlotta—is to prove her worth. Except, of course, that royals can be capricious, especially when Charlotta has reason to be distrustful. After all, her own bastard half-brother, Jacco, is trying to usurp her throne.
Estelle is not entirely alone. She has a young and somewhat mysterious falconer,Gabriel, on her side. Well, sometimes. Sometimes, he just ghosts her. Not much of a support organisation in a world where every misstep can lead to death.
Ms Maroney gives us an absolutely wonderful female protagonist. She may be young and frightened, but Estelle possesses both the wits and the courage necessary to survive in her new environment. Further to the excellent plot, Ms Maroney envelops us in a vibrant depiction of the past, reflecting her obvious familiarity with the period—and long gone Cyprus.
A fabulous, immersive read! Brava!
The Queen’s Scribe is on Kindle Unlimited and available worldwide on Amazon: https://mybook.to/QueensScribe
About the author: Amy Maroney studied English Literature at Boston University and worked for many years as a writer and editor of nonfiction. She lives in Oregon, U.S.A. with her family. When she’s not diving down research rabbit holes, she enjoys hiking, dancing, traveling, and reading. Amy is the author of The Miramonde Series, an award-winning historical fiction trilogy about a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern-day scholar on her trail. Her new historical suspense series, Sea and Stone Chronicles, is set in medieval Rhodes and Cyprus.
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