Book Review for “Katherine” by Anya Seton

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My first review this month was for The Twelfth Transforming by Pauline Gedge; the best Egyptian historical fiction that I’ve ever read. We’re ending January strong with a review for the best English historical fiction that I’ve read (so far), Katherine by Anya Seton. This book was released in 1954 and somehow, despite my love of historical fiction, I had never heard of this book or its author. I stumbled across it randomly on the Thriftbooks website and I’m so glad that I did. This book is historically accurate so there will technically be spoilers in this review. Let’s get into the synopsis.


This classic romance novel tells the true story of the love affair that changed history—that of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the ancestors of most of the British royal family. Set in the vibrant 14th century of Chaucer and the Black Death, the story features knights fighting in battle, serfs struggling in poverty, and the magnificent Plantagenets—Edward III, the Black Prince, and Richard II—who ruled despotically over a court rotten with intrigue. Within this era of danger and romance, John of Gaunt, the king’s son, falls passionately in love with the already married Katherine. Their well-documented affair and love persist through decades of war, adultery, murder, loneliness, and redemption. This epic novel of conflict, cruelty, and untamable love has become a classic since its first publication in 1954.

My Thoughts

This book is quite hefty at 575 pages but not once was I bored. Katherine ticks all the boxes of what I’m looking for in historical fiction:

  • Historically accurate? Check. When I went into this book, I knew next to nothing about Katherine or John of Gaunt. I had no idea if the story was accurate to history or highly embellished so I decided to do a little fact checking once I was finished reading. After doing thatthe incredible amount of research Seton did was evident. She did take some creative license with the amount of children key characters had, minor details, etc but as far as I could find, this book borders on being nonfiction while creatively filling in the details. The accuracy is made even more impressive when you think about the fact that this book was written in 1954; no internet to make the research process easier.
  • Detailed and Smooth Writing? Check. The story line flowed well and was easy to keep up with while being full of excellent descriptions. Seton beautifully described all of the settings, the characters, clothes and jewels. I personally enjoy very descriptive books but I know that others do not and if you don’t, you may find this book to be overly descriptive.
  • Romance and romance done well? Check. There is fine line, in my opinion, between good romance and gag worthy romance in books. Katherine is a beautiful romance story. Katherine and John’s relationship is the heart of this book and even though the synopsis of the book itself spoils the fact that they end up together, it isn’t a straight forward and predictable story line. Their relationship is tumultuous and filled with bittersweetness. It’s a fairytale romance with the harsh aspects of real life thrown in and I absolutely love it. For those that like to know, sexual content is only implied and this book would be appropriate for teens and up.

Final Thoughts

I think it’s pretty clear that I recommend this book. It’s a lengthy story but if you love historical fiction, I think you’ll love Katherine. Let me know what books you think I NEED to read next! Thanks for reading and have a great day!

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