Margaret of Anjou has no idea what’s in store for her when she travels as a seasick French fifteen-year-old to marry the English king Henry VI. Not fluent in English and, due to her nationality, viewed as an enemy by many English people, Margaret doesn’t have the easiest time of it, particularly when her marriage fails to bring peace between England and France and takes years to produce an heir to the throne. Amidst suspicions over his illegitimacy, challenges to her husband’s throne, and eventual war between her suspects, Margaret struggles to retain the birthrights of herself, her husband, and her son.
Susan Higginbotham is a historical fiction writer who never fails to deliver the books that I personally want to read. Well-written, historically accurate, and meticulously detailed, she is an expert at transporting me back in history while never really throwing me out of the story with something I obviously know to be wrong. Even when she does change something to suit her purposes, I know that it will be logical and fully explained at the end, as everything is here. With this latest book, I got all of this and wasn’t disappointed at all. If anyone can make me enjoy a book set during a period about which I know entirely too much, Higginbotham is unquestionably that author.
And I did enjoy The Queen of Last Hopes. At its heart it is a good depiction of Margaret’s life and a more careful examination of the motivations that this so often vilified woman had for the actions she took over the course of her life. She’s not dismissed as a villain, for once, but instead rehabilitated. Unfortunately, though, I think in this case Higginbotham went a little further towards good than I really would have preferred. I would agree that she was made to seem excessively cruel because she was a woman, a crime perpetuated over the centuries, simply because she took a role most people would rather envision a man having. But that doesn’t mean she had to be so very good; I think creating an affair for her went some way towards mitigating this, but not entirely.
Still, I related to Margaret, and for the first time I felt I could understand what the real woman must have gone through as everyone turned against her and everything she cared about was at risk. I’d find it difficult not to. The book is told through differing viewpoints and I found hers to be by far the most appealing, even though she was on the sidelines of almost all the events. Those other characters give us the perspective on her that we need to remain balanced throughout the course of the novel; they save the book from excessive telling by giving us a way to see the events through those characters’ eyes.
Overall, The Queen of Last Hopes was an engaging historical novel for me that suited my expectations perfectly. I would have preferred a more balanced version of Margaret, but I could still relate to her and was still wrapped up in her story. Though not my favorite of Higginbotham’s books, this is still a good move towards looking more realistically at Margaret of Anjou.
I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free from the publisher for review.