May 2024
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Review: Virgin Widow, Anne O’Brien

Anne Neville has always known that her future isn’t really hers to choose. But she trusts her father, the earl of Warwick, to provide a good husband for her, and her childhood is generally happy even if she does occasionally fight with her sister Isabel. When Richard, duke of Gloucester, is brought to her home of Middleham to be fostered, Anne immediately develops an interest in him, and they become friends. When her father arranges their marriage, Anne is at first uncertain and then pleased. But politics in England are uncooperative and soon a rift grows between Anne’s father and King Edward IV. Anne is forced to flee to France, where she ends up in a loveless marriage and spends days wondering when she will escape her cruel life and get back to the man she loves.

Anne O’Brien chose to write this novel about Anne Neville because few people actually give the focus to her when writing a novel set during the Wars of the Roses. And she’s right, because I’m not sure I’ve read one which does actually have her as the narrator. As a result, there were some new sections here, particularly the exile in France. I’ve not read a fictional account of Anne’s marriage to the Edward of Lancaster, even though most books mention it. So, O’Brien succeeded in bringing some new material to a story that’s been told many times, which I appreciated.

I also liked that O’Brien chose to cast the novel as a romance between Anne and Richard over an extended period of time. While there’s no evidence that there was actually a romance, and Richard had plenty of greedy motives for marrying Anne, as the author says, there isn’t any evidence that it didn’t happen. And the romance was quite sweet and well-written; I like how both the characters, especially Richard, changed over the period of the novel and the couple acknowledged one another’s faults and flaws when they decided to be together in the end.

Unfortunately, a few things prevented the book from being truly excellent, though it was enjoyable. For one thing, I really feel like the Wars of the Roses are massively overdone in historical fiction, only surpassed by the truly ridiculous saturation of Tudors. Knowing the details of everything that is going to happen in a novel just kills it, IMO – which is why I appreciated how O’Brien did some things differently. I did find some things a little strange, like the fact that Anne referred to her parents as the Earl and Countess even in her own head, but Margaret of Anjou was never really the Queen and Richard was always Richard. While children in the Middle Ages would have been very aware of their parents’ titles, I’m pretty sure they still called their mothers “Mother”, especially when they’re depicted as having a close relationship – Anne’s mother doesn’t seem to be a particularly distant figure to her and she loves and trusts her parents. It added a bit of distance that I don’t think the novel needed.

Lastly, I thought the addition of an incestuous relationship between two of the characters was a little unnecessary; they had already been villainized enough throughout the rest of the novel. It just kind of squicked me out.

Virgin Widow is a good addition to the current offering of historical fiction covering the Wars of the Roses and I definitely recommend it for its different perspective on events.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free from the publisher for review.


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