Red Rose, White Rose by Joanna Hickson

Here’s something I hadn’t seen yet in my copious historical fiction reading: a book about Cicely Neville, mother of Edward IV and Richard III, also called “Proud Cis.” I had read Joanna Hickson’s two books about Katherine of Valois (The Agincourt Bride, reviewed here, and The Tudor Bride, reviewed here), so I was excited to read her new work.

Red Rose, White Rose Front Cover (HarperCollins UK)

Red Rose, White Rose Front Cover (HarperCollins)

THE PLOT: Teenage Cicely is out hawking with her brothers, including her older illegitimate brother Cuthbert (Cuddy), when she is kidnapped by bandits. She is saved, but it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire as her “rescuers” are an estranged branch of Nevilles from her father’s first marriage. They have been feuding for years with Cicely’s mother, Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. These Nevilles intend to hold Cicely until they get the portion of the Neville inheritance they believe they’re entitled to. Cicely is already engaged to Richard, the Duke of York, and this kidnapping could stain her reputation and put an end to the betrothal. Cicely finds herself bonding with one of her cousins in a romance that will haunt her years later, all through the Wars of the Roses.

From here, the book trades off point of view between Cicely and her brother Cuddy. The reader gets Cicely’s perspective on the beinnings of the dispute through the crowning of Edward IV. Cuddy’s perspective gives details of the various battles.

MY TWO CENTS: Everyone knows I love historical fiction, and of the three Joanna Hickson books I’ve read, this one is my favorite. This one felt truest to the characters and the action. Cicely isn’t 100% likable, and her actions ring true to the nickname “Proud Cis.” She does some nasty things she can conveniently label as “duty” or “loyalty,” when the truth is her actions are often about appearances.

For some reason, I expected most of the book to be about young Cicely, either pre-marriage or during early marriage. I didn’t expect it to be quite so much about her married life and Wars of the Roses battles. I don’t know why, apparently just my misconception. So if, as a prospective reader, you’re thinking it’s just all about Cicely’s personal life, that’s not really the case.

My second bit of surprise was about Cicely’s illicit romance. I expected that the author was introducing a reason for later rumors that Edward IV was illegitimate, but it never comes up in this book. Maybe in a later book? a follow-up? (According to her Facebook page, Hickson’s next book will be about Jasper Tudor, so the Wars of the Roses continues!)

I also think it works to trade off Cicely’s point of view with Cuddy’s, and he’s the more sympathetic lead character. I rooted for him much more than I did Cicely, but that’s partially because I know where Cicely’s life leads. I didn’t know where this book would lead Cuddy.

BOTTOM LINE: The Wars of the Roses seems to have taken the place of the Tudor period now in popular historical fiction, and this is an interesting and different read about the period. I enjoy Hickson’s writing and am looking forward to her next book on Jasper Tudor.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available in the US on July 7, 2015, in paperback and eformats. Already available in UK.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

The Virgin Widow by Anne O’Brien

This historical fiction is the love story of Richard of Gloucester and Anne Neville. If you are a Richard III hater or someone who likes historical fiction to be almost completely factual, this may not be the book for you. But I am neither of those types of people, so I loved this book.

Virgin Widow Front Cover

Virgin Widow Front Cover (US edition, NAL/Penguin)

THE PLOT: The book starts with Richard being fostered as a child by Warwick at Middleham and meeting Warwick’s daughter, the young Anne Neville. It ends with the birth of their son, Edward of Middleham. In between is a turbulent ride of betrothals, betrayals, rebellions, marriages, other marriages, and kidnapping.

Young Anne is betrothed to Richard in her father’s bid to keep power away from the grasping Woodvilles, family of Queen Elizabeth. But when Warwick rebels against Edward IV, the betrothal is broken and the Neville family is exiled. When Warwick allies with Margaret of Anjou, queen of the former King Henry VI, Anne is betrothed to Margaret’s son Prince Edward instead. When Warwick leads an army against King Edward, Margaret allows the marriage to be performed, but not consummated. Her and her son’s treatment of Anne is marked by mental and emotional cruelty.

Once Warwick is defeated and Prince Edward is killed, Anne returns to Edward IV’s court as a wealthy heiress. There she becomes a pawn in a struggle between Richard and his other brother, George, Duke of Clarence (who is married to Anne’s sister Isabel), for Anne’s inheritance.

MY TWO CENTS: I just can’t stress how much I loved this book. Anne was written as a believable and sympathetic girl, struggling to stay strong amid the crazy turmoil she’s unwittingly trapped in. Despite what you know of Richard III, you can freely let yourself believe that he and Anne are childhood sweethearts torn apart. Even during the fight with Clarence over her inheritance, the reader can believe that Richard truly loves her and is trying to protect her. I was perfectly willing to let go of my knowledge of Richard as Richard III and just flow with their story.

The Virgin Widow Front Cover, UK Edition (MIRA Books)

Virgin Widow Front Cover, UK Edition (MIRA Books)

 

Are there any hints that Richard COULD be a monster? That he would disinherit is own nephews and possibly kill them to take his brother’s throne? There are moments when Richard is described as a warrior, a ruthless constable of England. But the reader is led to believe that this ruthlessness is used only to serve his brother, King Edward, and protect Anne, his great love. Even his slaying of Prince Edward of Lancaster is described as either a brutal murder OR defense of King Edward. If you know nothing about Richard, you might not pick up on the subtle hints that Richard CAN be manipulative and cold-blooded. There is nothing in the book that nods toward the future that awaits following the death of his brother. My own knowledge of these future events still didn’t detract from my pleasure in the book.

BOTTOM LINE: Lovers of romantic historical fiction should enjoy this book. Of course, readers should keep in mind that this is historical fiction, and those with real interest in facts about Richard and Anne should turn to nonfiction. Just remember that history doesn’t record what went on between them during their private moments.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of Five teacups. Anne O’Brien is now on my must-read list. I wish all her titles were available in the US, but I’ll just get them from Amazon UK.

ON SALE DATE: The Virgin Widow is available in eformats and trade paperback now.

Wars of the Roses: Stormbird by Conn Iggulden

I titled my Amazon review for this this ARC “Wars of the Roses for Game of Thrones Fans.”

Wars of the Roses: Stormbird Front Cover (Penguin Group USA)

Wars of the Roses: Stormbird Front Cover (Penguin Group USA)

 

THE PLOT: The book starts with the arrangement of the marriage of Henry VI to Margaret of Anjou, which includes the return of French territories Anjou and Maine to France. Surprisingly, Englishmen living in those areas aren’t wild about giving up their homes to the French, so lots of fighting ensues. In the meantime, Henry VI is mentally incapable of running a kingdom. The book only covers up until the Duke of York becomes protectorate, so this is all really preliminary setup for the actual Wars of the Roses.

MY TWO CENTS: Many of the current popular books on the Wars of the Roses are more romantic historical fiction, or told from women’s points of view. This first book in a new series is a lot more brutal…lots of battles, torture, and hangings. It’s also told from all male points of view with the exception of Margaret of Anjou. Narrators trade off, much as the Song of Ice and Fire books do, and include both real historical characters and purely fictional characters. (However, the writing is nowhere near as dense as the SOIAF books; it’s a much quicker read, and I don’t think the word “craven” has been used…but “boiled leather” has!)

BOTTOM LINE: Some of the scenes were a little too brutal for my taste, but overall, I found it an antidote to some of the other more romantic books. If you like fictionalized accounts of historical battles, you will probably enjoy this book. The next book in the series is titled “Trinity,” and I definitely have it on my “to read” list.

TEACUP RATING: A solid 4 out of 5 teacups. I like the writing, love the period covered, and ended up sympathizing with most of the main characters. I don’t love reading about torture, though. (Does anyone? Really?)

ON SALE DATE: This book will be available in the US in hardcover and eformats on July 8, 2014. I believe it went on sale earlier in other markets, such as the UK.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review.

%d bloggers like this: