Monday, May 19, 2014

Book Review: The Queen of Last Hopes by Susan Higginbotham

Release Date: January 28, 2011
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark 
Pages: 345
Received: Library
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 

The War of the Roses seems to be The Next Big Thing for historical fiction fans who are all Tudor-ed out. And with good reason! While Henry VIII might be known for his many wives and religious turmoil, the War of the Roses is a period of, well, WAR.

And I love a good war.

With all the feuding sides, crownings and dethrownings, intrigue, and romance, the War of the Roses is definitely worth checking out. But where to begin?

I've started my fictional foray with Susan Higginbotham's The Queen of Last Hopes, a book I've long pined for (mostly because of the cover, which I apparently didn't even look at all that closely because what is with that flower?!). Starting here was an excellent choice.

The Queen of Last Hopes follows Margaret of Anjou's perspective, though it dives off here and there to look through the eyes of several men when Margaret wasn't present for the action. Normally I hate this willy nilly narrative style, but I hate missing battle scenes even more, so I was more okay than not with the author's choice.

Margaret makes a good narrator, but it's also her voice that made me knock off half a star. I don't know what it was, but something kept me from truly connecting with her and becoming invested in her, despite being totally invested in the events surrounding her. While there were some aspects of her I felt I knew very well, I couldn't shake the feeling that a part of her was hidden from me and I didn't fully know her. She was more of a C. W. Gortner's Isabella for me than a Juliet Grey's Marie Antoinette. Still, that's pretty high praise.

But those events, oh my gosh those events! This is a crazy war and Margaret's story follows major battles, desperate flights to safety, bargaining with the enemy, and so many coup d'etats my head was spinning. I never felt like I was reading a dry history lesson.

Though I almost wish I did feel that a little more. The peripheral details could have been more prominent, though I'm the kind of reader who wants to be lectured on stuff like the type of material used to make flatware during the time period. This lack made me feel a little less "living and breathing" in the actual time period, so that's the other reason for a half a star off.

But I can live with that. This is more a people and events kind of book, and Susan Higginbotham excels in those areas. While Margaret felt a little reserved, she wasn't a total blank slate. I was totally invested in her relationship with her husband and the way she grappled with his madness and frailties and her feelings for him. I have to admit, I sobbed a few times.

Her relationships with other characters were also emotional, but I had a harder time getting involved with them. This was partially because they were less developed (except for one, which, yeah, I was definitely into that one), but also partly because half of them went by the same name. When one died, his heir inherited his titled and thenceforth was referred to by the title.

So, you'd have the Duke of Somerset, until he died, and then we follow his heir...the Duke of Somerset! It got a little confusing and I guess names matter, because I think this carrying on of the same name made me have a harder time connecting with the different men.

Major players on both sides make an appearance and, while it could be because this is my first fictional taste of these people, I liked Susan Higginbotham's take on them very much. Margaret was given a fair shake (unlike the she-devil interpretations that seem to abound) and though this is obviously a Team Lancaster book, I thought the author's portrayals of the Big Bads of the House of York were balanced.

The author does take artistic license in a few instances, but they do derive from historical rumor at least and she has a very nice author's note at the end clarifying fact from fiction. I'm usually a huge stickler for REAL OR GO HOME, but these changes didn't bother me much because they could have happened.

Bottom line: I went out and bought two more of her books soon after finishing The Queen of Last Hopes, so there you go. I'm a fan. 

FYI, this is an adult book. Margaret has relations and there's a boatload of violence (which, obviously! This is a War of the Roses book!)

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Have you read any sympathetic books about the House of Lancaster?

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  1. Very entertaining review. This one is going on my list. I need to know more about the war of the roses!

    1. Thanks! This one's a keeper, I think. I hope you like it!

  2. I don't know much about the War of Roses either so thanks for the tip on starting with this one! I've been on a historical fiction kick lately and hope to check this one out soon.

    1. It worked as a good starting point for me. I think the only drawback for a newbie would be the name thing, but who knows if it would be any better in another book. I hope you like it!

  3. Loved the review, Smalls!
    I do agree that War of the Roses seems to be all the rage these days. :P
    And I totes get you on the voice, sometimes you can read a whole book and be okay with the voice, yet at the same time not feel totes into it.



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