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Carpe Librum

Bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.


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Historical Novel Society

Queen By Right - Anne Easter Smith I love reading about the Plantagenets. From Henry II to Richard III (or even later if we want to include theories about the missing princes), I adore their boldness, ambition, chivalry, and propensity for tragedy. Cecily Neville has always been sort of a background character in everything else that I have read about these last of the Plantagenets, so I found this book interesting from that point of view. There is nowhere near the amount of detail of battles and politics because this story is told from the side of one left at home and not told everything that may upset them or dissolve their confidence.

I will take a moment here to agree, to a point, with other reviews that there is a tendency for authors of historical novels like this one to write each noble Englishwoman as beautiful, thin and lithe after 12 children, and "practically perfect in every way" that is present in this novel as well. Cecily and Richard are a love match despite their politically arranged marriage, which makes it all the more crushing to learn of his death, and Cecily has visions supposedly sent to her by the Virgin Mary. While I agree that the amount of witchcraft and psychic powers prevalent lately is something that I could do without (See Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory), Smith does better, in my opinion, of curbing some of these faults. As for it being a fluffy romance novel, I will at least say that we are spared detailed sex scenes that make me cringe when reading them (see Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth or the often repeated "bed, wife" in PG's White Queen, now there's historical fiction fluff for you).

Maybe the lack of detail of what was going on outside Cecily's homestead is what drew me into this novel. I already know enough to fill in the blanks of what she was missing, so I could feel for her as she had no choice but to wait and see if her loved ones returned to her. Since the novel ends with Edward's coronation, there is a huge part of Cecily's life left unrevealed which was a disappointment. I had looked forward to reading Smith's interpretation of Cecily's reaction to Richard's actions after Edward's death. But as the pages of the book grew less and less and we were nowhere near that part of her life, I knew I was going to be disappointed. Of course, that is a sign of a good book that I felt it was too short.

My biggest complaint, which seems rather silly, was the overuse of the word "chuckle." Seriously, does anyone ever really say this word? The characters in this book did not laugh, they chuckled, and it drove me crazy.

This book did make me think for the first time about the parallels between Eleanor of Aquitaine and Cecily Neville. At the beginning and end of the Plantagenet reign we see strong women who have a dozen children but live so long that they witness the tragedies of most of them and by far outlive their husbands. A sad but proud pair.