Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Book Review: The Woodvilles by Susan Higginbotham

Library book
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

I've been dipping my toes into historical non-fiction lately, and I'm quickly learning to group these books into two personal categories: Narrative (more or less straight historical recounting) and Academic (themes and lots of quotes from other people). I very much like the first group, but I'm rapidly learning I could do without the latter.

Unfortunately for me, The Woodvilles is more the latter. There was a whole lot of "According to so and so...[insert long quote]" and I found myself skipping over the quotes almost entirely the more I read.

I'd rather do the comparisons between historians myself, at least at this point, and I'd rather the author quietly do their research and then present to me a straight narrative of their findings. I don't really like the whole, "Well, this historian thought this, but it's countered by this other historian with this diary entry we've since found..." And The Woodvilles had a whole lot of that.

There was also a lot of themed chapters that touched on highlights of the Woodvilles' lives, but skipped over a lot of the general historical timeline. This wasn't awful, since the chapters were laid out more or less chronologically, but it did remove some of the oomph of certain moments (like Jacquetta's witchcraft trial).

I also got the impression that there just was not enough known historical fact to really flesh out an entire book, so there was a lot of "probably, maybe, possibly" and a few scenes were repeated far too often (yesh, I get it, the Woodville men were "judged" by the Yorks!)

On the positive side, I did learn some things (though not nearly enough—possible limitation of the subject matter?), and that just further supports my already positive feelings toward Susan Higginbotham. Also, when she's not quoting other people, I really do like her writing style.

Points too for providing a more sympathetic approach to the Woodvilles (though it seemed at times perhaps a little too sympathetic? Especially when there really didn't seem to be enough historical data in some situations to back up either a sympathetic or hostile approach). This last was especially nice to see and makes me even more of a Susan Higginbotham fan given she has also written sympathetically from the Lancastrian side. Yay for balance!

So, will I read more of Susan Higginbotham's fiction? Absolutely! Will I read more of her non-fiction (if she writes more)? Eh, likely not. Or, I'd at least flip through it first to see how many block quotes there are and go from there.


1 comment:

  1. I also find that I need to choose academic historical non-fiction very carefully because it can be not very substantive. Unfortunately, I do think that a lot of history (especially the further back we go) is filled with "possiblys" instead of known facts. I understand how that can get frustrating, and usually look through bibliographies so I can read the accounts myself and see what I think, which can be fun. This time period is interesting to me, so I might check out the bibliography of this one to see if anything looks good from there. Thanks for sharing!


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