Hugh and Bess, Susan Higginbotham
After reading The Traitor's Wife last year I have been eagerly awaiting the time when I could read more of Ms. Higginbotham's novels. Once I started reading this one I could not put it down and I finished it in less than a day. This one comes next in chronological order after TW, telling the story of Hugh le Despenser the younger's son, Hugh, and his young wife Elizabeth de Montacute.
Bess is over ten years younger than Hugh and not happy that she is to marry the son of an executed traitor. I couldn't be annoyed with Bess about her attitude toward Hugh in the beginning as all she had heard about this man's family was horrible; it was only to be expected that she would not want to marry into a family with that kind of past. As the story starts when she is quite young we really get to watch her grow and mature. Hugh is easily likable and it was really touching to see how careful and patient he was with his young bride. He has a wonderful sense of humor and his comments about his own family's past are priceless. I loved watching how they came to truly love one another. It is easy to sympathize with each and still be able to place blame on both of them in their one "big argument." They are both stubborn and opinionated people but neither have any real horrible character flaws. I have to say though that Hugh was my favorite side of that pair. While there is plenty of history thrown into the mix, the real "star" is the love story between the two. I was almost in tears reading about the coming of the Black Death and those that suffered from it.
This really was an interesting look at many people not usually focused on in history or historical fiction. The major players in the events of the time are certainly mentioned but they do not play a leading roll in the story, which is refreshing; its always nice to read about new people. Higginbotham is a wonderful writer and she had me hooked from the start; I kept wanting to turn the pages, eager to find out what happened next. The novel is excellently written with very interesting characters and great plot/story development and is an easy read. Like Sharon Kay Penman, Higginbotham manages to blend fiction with well researched history seamlessly but manages to keep the reader from getting bogged down in too much detail. It is always nice to read really good historical fiction where the author hasn't changed or altered too much history to suit their own story needs. So much of this history is so fascinating and intriguing already; it doesn't really need any more drama thrown in!
I would certainly recommend this to any readers (even readers that enjoy romance). If you have read her first novel, make sure to pick this one up.