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 Tudor Bride (Katherine of Valois #2) by Joanna Hickson

This is the second book by Joanna Hickson about the life of Katherine of Valois, who was queen to Henry V, mother of Henry VI, and through her second marriage to Owen Tudor, grandmother to Henry VII. The first book, The Agincourt Bride, was previously reviewed here. I actually enjoyed this book much more than the first.

The Tudor Bride Front Cover (HarperCollins)

The Tudor Bride Front Cover (HarperCollins)

THE PLOT: Katherine and Henry V are happily married and have returned to England. Eventually, Katherine gives birth to a son, the heir to the throne. Their happiness is short-lived, though, when Henry suddenly dies. At age 21, Katherine is relegated to the less-glamorous status of queen mother to a child king. Her brother-in-law Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and now Lord Protector, is desperately trying to keep her out of the limelight, away from her son, and unmarried. (Naturally the young king’s stepfather would gain considerable power; maybe even enough to rival Humphrey’s). But Katherine’s growing love for her Master of the Wardrobe, Owen Tudor, inspires her to risk everything for a second chance at a happy marriage and family life.

The book also continues the story of Katherine’s companion and mother figure, Mette, who finds a new love and family of her own. All isn’t rosy for Mette and Katherine, though. Now an adult, Katherine starts to look for friends closer to her own station. Whether those friends are true friends or people looking out for their own interests is another matter. And a woman Katherine crosses early in the book plays a role in bringing about Katherine’s downfall, and even her death.

MY TWO CENTS: I felt that the adult Katherine’s voice was much more authentic in this book, and somehow, the relationship problems between her and Mette really brought both characters to life. It makes sense that Katherine would be influenced by other nobles even more than she would be by her beloved servant, whose origins were quite low. With Jacqueline of Hainault and Eleanor Cobham both stirring the pot, there is almost constant conflict offsetting what could have been a humdrum time of marriage and childrearing (even with the added spice of the marriage being secret). I’m sorry we didn’t get to see Eleanor Cobham horsewhipped or something, but at least we know she didn’t end her life where she wanted (and plotted) to be. I don’t know how much Eleanor truly had to do with Katherine’s dying in the convent, but this book certainly made her the villain.

BOTTOM LINE: If historical novels are your thing, you are likely to enjoy this one. The twists and turns will have you doing research to see how much is true history (a surprising amount). Katherine certainly led an interesting life! And her blood still runs in today’s British royals, through the descendants of her great-granddaughter Margaret. I’ll look forward to Hickson’s next book, Red Rose, White Rose, about Cecily Neville, Duchess of York (mother to Edward IV and Richard III).

TEACUP RATING: About four-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The book will be on sale in paperback and e-formats on March 5, 2015.

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

The Agincourt Bride (Katherine of Valois #1) by Joanna Hickson

Historical fiction is my favorite genre, but it’s a tricky thing. Its very nature has a duality—it’s based on real events, yet some of the characters and events written about may be entirely made up. The goal of a historical fiction author is to take some facts, weave an entertaining story out of them, imagine the events not reported by history, and yet still sound authentic. So does The Agincourt Bride succeed?

The Agincourt Bride Front Cover (HarperCollins)

The Agincourt Bride Front Cover (HarperCollins)

THE PLOT: The story of Katherine of Valois is told in first person from the perspective of her wet nurse and eventual ladies maid, Guillmette (Mette). When teenage Mette’s baby dies, she is recruited to be the wet nurse to the newest French princess. Unfortunately, the royal children are neglected by their mad father and pleasure-seeking mother. Mette, as the mother figure, bonds with the little princess more than she eventually will her own children.

The little princesses and princes are eventually taken away to become pawns in royal power games, and Mette concentrates on her own family. When she is eventually reunited with a teenage Katherine, Mette again enters Katherine’s service. But keeping Katherine safe amid shifting court loyalties isn’t easy. Katherine is offered as a bride to Henry of England, but before she becomes his wife, she is traumatized by the very people who should be protecting her. In the meantime, Mette has her own share of tragedies.

MY TWO CENTS: I very much enjoyed the coverage in this book. While many books about Katherine of Valois skip straight to her marriage, this one explored more of her family background, teen years, and young adulthood before her marriage. It starts with Katherine’s birth and ends with her traveling to England. There are great descriptions of how the people of France were affected by all the political turmoil happening at the time.

Back to my original question: Does the book succeed as historical fiction? My response is: mostly yes. The book is told first-person from Mette’s point of view, and I feel like the book is most successful when Mette talks about her own family and her experiences with Katherine. I feel that the voice is slightly less successful when Katherine’s speech and actions are described through Mette’s eyes. It’s not that I see Mette as an untrustworthy narrator within the confines of the novel. It’s just that the descriptions of Mette’s experiences seem very natural, while Katherine’s speeches (as told by Mette) seem very forced. I’m not sure why this is; maybe to make sure we readers understand the distance between royal Katherine and common Mette. Maybe other readers won’t feel this discrepancy the way I do. It didn’t detract a lot from my reading experience, but I did feel it.

BOTTOM LINE: An enjoyable (although not fun) read of Katherine of Valois’s early life. I’m looking forward to seeing how an older Katherine relates to Mette as queen of England and then secret wife of Jasper Tudor in the sequel, The Tudor Bride.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups. I’m glad I have a paperback copy for my keeper shelf.

SPECIAL NOTE: Once I’ve finished Joanna Hickson’s The Tudor Bride, I intend to do a comparison/contrast of these two books with Anne O’Brien’s Forbidden Queen.

ON SALE DATE: The book is now available in the US in paperback, e-book formats, and audio.

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



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