The Queen of Last Hopes, Susan Higginbotham
I was honored to receive this early for review (and I'm ashamed it's taken me this long to put my review up) but I was a bit hesitant because Margaret of Anjou is not one of my favorite people in history. However, as it is written by the wonderful Susan Higginbotham, I knew it couldn't be anything but good and I was right.
I am not going to rehash the plot line of the novel as many folks are familiar with the twists and turns of the Wars of the Roses. The story follows Margaret's life from the time of her betrothal to Henry VI in 1444, through all the ups and downs as Queen of England, and ends with her death in 1482. Being a Yorkist myself I was wondering how I would get through a book about a Lancastrian Queen but I found it was a very good and informative read. Most mentions of Margaret in other novels of the time are quite scathing and make her into a she-wolf. Her reputation down through history has not been painted in a favorable light. Higginbotham shows us that there certainly could have been a much different side to this Queen. Here Margaret is shown as being extremely loyal and ambitious but also loving and courageous. Not knowing much on Margaret's life beyond what is barely mentioned in other novels, it was very interesting to see Higginbotham's take on how Margaret dealt with a husband who went "mad," the rumors floating throughout the country concerning her son Edward, the people's dislike for their French Queen, and her constant struggle to retain her husband and son's birthright - the throne of England. Most of the story is told from Margaret's point of view though there are some chapters told from the view point of Henry VI, their son Edward, and a few of the Beauforts. In some novels this can muddle the storyline and make it a bit difficult to follow but not here; the other viewpoints will really help the reader understand the turmoil of the time period. The novel follows historical events in order without any confusing flashbacks (which in many other novels can muddle the story) and each chapter begins with the date so it is really easy to follow. The characters are carefully written, their own personalities fleshed out, and their actions and feelings are quite believable (there are many, many characters in this novel but there is a handy list at the front of the book that should be helpful!). There are wonderful descriptions and details of life in England in the 15th century and Higginbotham's writing can transport you back in time.
As usual, Higginbotham's wonderful writing and attention to historical detail weave a very intriguing story. As a Yorkist, I was worried about how the players on that side of the line would be shown and while they are obviously not supposed to be the "good" guys in this novel, in no way are they painted as horrible monsters. I also really liked the prologue and epilogue Higginbotham included; they really make an impact. This is a novel I would highly recommend to all readers interested in the Wars of the Roses as it gives a refreshing new look at a woman who, when mentioned in history, is usually maligned.
*I received this novel for review from Sourcebooks.