Sunday, May 29, 2011
Scandalous Review: QUEEN BY RIGHT - Anne Easter Smith
My thoughts: It's no secret that I'm a Plantagenetaholic. You can keep your Tudors and your Hanoverians, the Plantagenets are my favorite dynasty. They ruled England and most of France for over 300 years! So when I received a copy of Anne Easter Smith's new novel QUEEN BY RIGHT, I was in Plantegenet heaven. QUEEN BY RIGHT is the story of Cecily Neville known to history as the Rose of Raby. I'd forgotten, until I looked through the genealogy tables, that Cecily was the granddaughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford.
Cecily is exactly my type of heroine, she's strong, stubborn and somewhat spoiled, but she's also incredibly intelligent, which was not exactly prized in the Medieval era. Her mother, Joan Beaufort, struggles to get her daughter to conform to what is socially acceptable for women, embroidery, music, and being a good wife but Cecily also enjoys political discussions and hunting. The revelation for me in this book was the character of Joan of Beaufort. Born on the wrong side of the blanket, although later legitimized by Richard II after her parents were married, Joan is always aware that she and her family almost have to be even more correct than others. Their loyalty lies with the Lancastrian Kings (Henry IV being Joan and her siblings half-brother), which makes it interesting that Cecily is betrothed to Richard, Duke of York who is descended not only from a younger son of Edward III but also from Lionel, Duke of Clarence and perhaps has a better claim to the thorne then the Lancastrians.
One of the joys of the novel is seeing Richard and Cecily grow into their marriage. Although it was an arranged marriage, it grows into a true love match which was rare for the period. Richard and Cecily grow up together, and forge an early friendship as children. Richard grows to appreciate Cecily's intelligence and her forthrightness, particularly as the relationship between Richard and Henry VI grows strained due to the machinations of Margaret of Anjou and Cecily's cousin Edmund Beaufort. Even when Cecily has a hard time conceiving due a miscarriage in the early years of their marriage, their love remains strong. Cecily is a supportive wife, even when at times, she knows that her husband may be making the wrong choices.
This novel has a depth and breadth to it that you don't often find in historical novels nowadays. I never felt that the book was rushed, or that the author was jumping from one event to another, kind of like the 'greatest hits of the War of the Roses,' which often seems to be the case with some historical novels. There are just as many quiet family scenes as there are big dramatic scenes. Easter Smith, in her author note, is very clear where she deviates or adds to the historical record. One of these instances is during Richard and Cecily's time in Rouen which just happened to coincide with the trial and execution of Joan of Arc. The scenes where Cecily meets Joan are riveting, if they didn't happen, they really should have! Having done extensive research on Joan of Arc for SCANDALOUS WOMEN, Easter Smith's interpretation will certainly please those of us who are fascinated by the Maid of Orleans. Amongst the real-life historical characters, Easter Smith offers the reader Constance LeMaitre, a female physician who is taken into Cecily's household and becomes her confidante and friend.
By the end of the book, I felt as if I had made a new friend in Cecily Neville. I wept with her when her children died, laughed at some of the most uproarious sections of the book, and marveled at the relationship between Cecily and Richard, a relationship that most of us only dream of having.
My Verdict: Highly Recommended. A vivid and compelling novel about one of the most turbulent periods of English history, with a compelling and attractive heroine. A must read for all historical fiction lovers. My only complaint was that the book ended, but at least I have 3 more Anne Easter Smith novels to add to my TBR pile!
You can order the book here at Borders