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Review: Queen of Last Hopes by Susan Higginbotham

The Queen of Last Hopes: The Story of Margaret of Anjou - Susan Higginbotham

Susan Higginbotham excels at writing historical fiction that makes the reader think. After dozens of books casting Woodvilles as evil, Yorkists as saviors, and Lancastrians as inept usurpers, this author will make you rethink the stereotypes and assumptions. In this particular novel, it is Margaret of Anjou we are tempted to think of as a devoted and upstanding queen rather than the she-wolf ravaging England with her hired mercenaries.

It was a challenge. While I don't know that I feel much more sympathy for Margaret after this reading, I certainly mourned for each follower of hers who was slain fighting for her lost cause. How I would love to get a moment with one of these noblemen so that I could ask them, "What made you go forth to an almost certain death in an attempt to put the addled descendant of a Lancastrian usurper back on the throne?"

Higginbotham corrects some often stated assumptions about Margaret, such as the one that has her ordering the heads of York, Salisbury, and Rutland to be displayed on the gate at York. Other authors have Margaret personally leading and commanding troops which is unlikely to have ever happened. Unfortunately, even this more realistic look at Margaret made me wish she had just chosen to retire into obscurity rather than continue to rile up dissention in favor of her husband who she admits is not fit to rule.

Maybe I've read too much Yorkist propaganda, but I felt like the reasons for the rebellion were not really given. We are supposed to sympathize with Henry because these noblemen are inexplicably turning against him, but of course that's not true. There were reasons, otherwise why would men fight for Richard and then Edward?

Though Higginbotham does an exemplary job of writing historical characters from a refreshing point of view and uses the switching first person point of view better than anyone else, I still have a difficult time really liking anyone in this book. Maybe they're too real and nobody stands out as a hero or victim, but I wanted someone to stand out and make me want to get out there and fight myself.

Overall, this is a very thoughtful and well-researched look at the Wars of the Roses. It may not make you a Lancastrian, but it will likely help you to see that there were those deserving sympathy on both sides.