I have been on a bit of a historical fiction binge recently, particularly the Wars of The Roses era, I just can’t get enough!
Today I am reviewing The Queen’s Rival by Anne O’Brien. It tells the story of Cecily Neville, I’ve mentioned previously on a blog post Cecily is my 18 times great-grandmother and so I love reading about her. My mum bought me the book for my birthday, an excellent choice!
I shall also be taking part in the upcoming September blog tour for Anne’s new book The Royal Game, I can’t wait!
The forgotten story of Cecily Neville, Duchess of York. A strong woman who claimed the throne for her family in a time of war…
‘A compelling story of divided loyalties and family betrayals. Dramatic and highly evocative’ Woman & Home
England, 1459. One family united by blood. Torn apart by war…
The Wars of the Roses storm through the country, and Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, plots to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne.
But when the Yorkists are defeated at the battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandon her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.
Stripped of her lands and imprisoned in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit. One that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King Edward IV.
‘O’Brien manages to reinvent historical fiction’ My Weekly
‘This thrilling historical novel has it all – high politics, drama, emotion, excellent writing … It’s a rollercoaster of a read’ Carol McGrath
‘Dramatic and highly evocative’ Woman’s Weekly
I enjoyed this book very much. The format of a mixture of letters, chronicle reporting, prayers, and other documents works well to tell Cecily’s story. I loved the letters between Cecily and her sisters, full of what we today would call family ‘banter’, calling out each others weaknesses, making fun of each other, but ultimately showing love and loyalty to one another. The Chronicle reports act almost as though a gossip column, reminding me a little of Bridgerton, it stirs up thoughts and emotions, pointing out indiscretions and poor decisions, it also moved the plot along well to fill in some gaps between events.
Cecily’s life is one full of turmoil and loss. We can see in the writing that although she is almost continuously bombarded with things going wrong she stayed strong, she was resolute and unwavering. She is highly protective and fierce when it comes to her family. There were few good times in her life it seems, especially after the death of her husband, Richard.
This was the first book in a long time that moved me to tears, (spoiler alert if you have not read the book or are not aware of this period in history) the letter from Richard, Duke of York, on the cusp of his final battle, anticipating that he may lose but believing he would be prisoner rather than die was incredibly sad to read.
Obviously this book is fiction, based on true events, but I felt like I learnt a lot, it is certainly a more personal way of learning about the past and the people of the time, shaping them into relatable figures.
It is an excellent perspective, and captivating portrayal of events during the period. Thoroughly enjoyable read.
Anne was born in the West Riding of Yorkshire. After gaining a B.A. Honours degree in History at Manchester University, a PGCE at Leeds University and a Masters degree in education at Hull University, she lived in the East Riding as a teacher of history. Always a prolific reader, she enjoyed historical fiction and was encouraged to try her hand at writing. Success in short story competitions spurred her on.
Leaving teaching – but not her love of history – she wrote her first historical romance, a Regency, which was published in 2005. This was followed by nine historical romances and a novella, ranging from medieval, through the Civil War and Restoration and back to Regency, all of which have been published internationally.
Since then Anne has sidestepped historical romances to write about the silent women of medieval history. As Virginia Wolfe once said: ‘For most of History, Anonymous was a Woman.’ For this reason, she decided to shake the cobwebs from some of these medieval women of interest and allow them to take the stage, three-dimensional and with much to say.
Here they are. And what a remarkable group of women who deserve to be given a voice:
Anne Neville, daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker, a pawn in the game of marriage and power-brokering, but from a family not notable for its silence. Alice Perrers, ambitiously scheming mistress of King Edward III, but also a smart business-woman. Katherine de Valois, a naive political bride for Henry V who managed to snatch some happiness when she found the strength to take Owen Tudor into her tragic life. Katherine Swynford whose liaison with John of Gaunt was not a light-hearted love affair, but a scandal of sinful proportions.
Then there is Elizabeth of Lancaster, dragged into the depths of treason by her marriage to John Holland, thus her husband set in conflict against her brother the King. Joan of Kent, notable for her clandestine marriages, but worthy of so much more in the manipulation of power. Elizabeth Mortimer, forceful wife of the infamous Hotspur. Invisible Queen Joanna of England and treacherous Constance of York, both women of some reputation. Cecily Neville, doyenne of the Wars of the Roses, must of course take a bow upon the stage.
Her new novel for September 2021 concerns the remarkable women of the Paston family who allowed us to see so much of their lives and their menfolk through their letters.
Anne now lives with her husband in an eighteenth century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire, a wild, beautiful place on the borders between England and Wales, renowned for its black and white timbered houses, ruined castles and priories and magnificent churches. Steeped in history, famous people and bloody deeds as well as ghosts and folk lore, it has given her inspiration for her writing. Since living there she has become hooked on medieval history.
Sometimes she escapes from writing. She enjoys her garden, a large, rambling area where she grows vegetables and soft fruit as well as keeping control over herbaceous flower borders, a wild garden, a small orchard and a formal pond. With an interest in herbs and their uses, Anne has a herb patch constructed on the pattern of a Tudor knot garden and enjoys cooking with the proceeds. Gardening is a perfect time for her to mull over what she’s been writing, as she wages war on the weeds.