Thwarted Queen, by Cynthia Haggard, is the story of Cecily (Cecylee) Neville, the wife and mother of husband (Richard, Duke of York) and sons were instrumental in the beginning of the War of the Roses. This novel seemed like a large undertaking with its voluminous size, but I flew through this book in no time! I was totally moved along by the story, as well as the drama, that I didn’t even have time to really dissect it. To me, the sign of a decent book is that I am caught up in it and want to complete it (at the demise of doing anything else) as quickly as I can. And I most certainly was swept away by the Thwarted Queen collection.
Haggard doesn’t make any boasts that her history is completely accurate or unfaltering. She makes it very clear with superb accompanying extras and final analysis of her story, and the time period, which historians she mirrored, what books and research she consulted, and how she came to her own conclusions based on her research. And truly, it’s not a non-fiction course book is it? It’s glorious historical fiction and that means that authors of the sort may “fill in the blanks,” creatively pursue new fictitious characters and story lines, and write with their heart.
I feel before I continue with the review I must post from Haggard’s own author’s note that explains the book structure:
Thwarted Queen naturally divides into four books. Book One: The Bride Price is about Cecylee’s girlhood. Book Two: One Seed Sown is about her love-affair with Blaybourne. Book Three: The Gilded Cage is about Richard of York’s political career from 1445 to his death in 1460, and covers the opening of the Wars of the Roses. Book Four: Two Murders Reaped is about Cecylee’s actions in her old age, and how she may have had a hand in the murder of the two little princes in the Tower. I used different points of view to convey mood and setting. The Bride Price is written in first-person present to capture the freshness of a young girl’s voice. One Seed Sown is written in first-person past to make Cecylee seem older and more mature. The Gilded Cage had to be written in third-person to capture all of the different voices and the complexity of Richard’s political life. Two Murders Reaped is written in first person past, to capture the voice of the old woman that Cecylee became.
Although usually this sort of explanation is put as an author’s note following the book, possibly Haggard should have put this revelation at the beginning so that readers didn’t get too confused and fault her for her tense changes. I think that her beginning story captured Cecylee quite well as a young girl full of independence and fears of her future, namely men. I loved how she portrayed her so strong in her convictions and wishes from a young age and throughout the novel. I was happy that she portrayed her a woman who fought so hard for her children and for women to be treated fairly and justly by men. She didn’t put up with abuse when so many others would have turned the other cheek, especially in these early centuries. Maybe called “Proud Cis” because of it, I don’t mind a female protagonist like Cecylee who is head-strong in wishing women were able to make their own decisions. Of course in 15th century, most women and female children of nobles were pawns and there was the common double standards of sexual virtue.
Another author I have always loved reading is Philippa Gregory. Though written more formally with a hint of non-fiction undertones due to her historian roots, her novels compel me in a way not easily explainable. She lets me in to the feelings of her historical figures so that I barely know is happening. I feel for them; I pull for them. When reading Haggard’s Thwarted Queen, I felt I was reading a similar type of novel as Gregory writes. Loaded with historical detail, she also doesn’t overburden the reader with it and I could clearly connect to Cecylee’s feelings and desires. I know that Haggard relied on some of Alison Weir’s novels to mold her historical path in the book and this lends credibility to her writing with me.
I quite enjoyed her nestling of real document excerpts, quotes, and writings. I liked, once again, seeing a writer showcase a possible love affair by a noble with a commoner, who many times are often those traveling creative types that offer allure for women that were probably bored to death with their lifestyle, with their husbands being away for political escapades or battle, and get caught up in being romanced by literature, poetry, or song. Haggard completely takes on the issue of nobility vs. commoner, especially with English people beginning to rise against the Monarchy, Lords, and other nobility controlling their lives at their personal whims.
One of my favorite sections was on page 187 when Richard, Duke of York, asks Parliament to pass the Act of Resumption which ultimately would ask the nobility to give up funds and lands for the good of the entire country! Sound similar to anything happening today? History has a way of repeating itself. I was in total agreement with Richard’s assessment brought forth by Haggard.
Haggard does introduce many characters in this book, but it seems to me that there are always so many people in these types of historical fiction novels due to the era it’s focused on. I think there was so much drama and so many people surrounding each other, playing off each other, and manipulating each other that writers need to talk about them all. It doesn’t help they all have the same names and quite often in all historical fiction books the historical persona is named with their titles repeatedly. That’s so we can keep them straight! I felt that Haggard did a nice job of telling us a story (without bogging us down) in a way that allowed us just enough detail to glimpse Cecylee’s life, Richard of York’s life, their children, and how it all played out around them. I didn’t need more development of the characters surrounding Cecylee and Richard because I was so focused on them, which ultimately, I should have been.
I have never read yet a historical fiction that was from the view of Richard II, Cecylee, or Richard III (their son) that presented their side of the story with such endearment. I did enjoy reading Gregory’s Lady of the Rivers (part of her The Cousin’s Wars series), which showcased Edward IV and his wife, that also showed Richard III in a much different light (and an alternate ending to the princes in the Tower) as do other writings as Shakespeare’s Richard III. After reading Richard Duke of York’s account of his struggles to claim the throne through Haggard, I have a new compassion for him. Though I previously wasn’t sure how I felt about Cecily Neville, I now can possibly understand her supposed personality and actions.
I thought Haggard did a superb job of research, writing, and creating her books that together make Thwarted Queen. I would certainly recommend this book for anyone liking to read War of the Roses historical fiction and is ready for a different perspective or a fresh narrator. I look forward to Haggard’s continued enthusiasm for history, which shines through her writing, and would be thrilled to read more by her in the future.
Thwarted Queen Synopsis~
THWARTED QUEEN is a portrait of a woman trapped by power, a marriage undone by betrayal, and a King brought down by fear.
Cecylee is the apple of her mother’s eye. The seventh daughter, she is the only one left unmarried by 1424, the year she turns nine. In her father’s eyes, however, she is merely a valuable pawn in the game of marriage. The Earl of Westmorland plans to marry his youngest daughter to 13-year-old Richard, Duke of York, who is close to the throne. He wants this splendid match to take place so badly, he locks his daughter up.
The event that fuels the narrative is Cecylee’s encounter with Blaybourne, a handsome archer, when she is twenty-six years old. This love affair produces a child (the “One Seed” of Book II), who becomes King Edward IV. But how does a public figure like Cecylee, whose position depends upon the goodwill of her husband, carry off such an affair? The duke could have locked her up, or disposed of this illegitimate son.
But Richard does neither, keeping her firmly by his side as he tries to make his voice heard in the tumultuous years that encompass the end of the Hundred Years War – during which England loses all of her possessions in France – and the opening phase of the Wars of the Roses. He inherits the political mantle of his mentor Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, and become’s the people’s champion. The rambunctious Londoners are unhappy that their country has become mired in misrule due to the ineptitude of a King prone to fits of madness. Nor are they better pleased by the attempts of the King’s French wife to maneuver herself into power, especially as she was responsible for England’s losses in France. But can Richard and Cecylee prevail? Everywhere, their enemies lurk in the shadows.
This book is filled with many voices, not least those of the Londoners, who forged their political destiny by engaging in public debate with the powerful aristocrats of the time. By their courageous acts, these fifteenth-century Londoners set the stage for American Democracy.
We have one (1) print copy to give away to a U.S. resident only. Please comment below, on MY (Erin Al-Mehairi) Facebook link, or email me to hookofabook(at)hotmail.com with your email contact info by 11:59 p.m. EST on March 4, 2013.
Extra entry (1) will be given if you follow my blog! Please also tell me you did so for the extra entry.
Praise for Thwarted Queen~
“Thwarted Queen is extremely interesting and cleverly written-I was completely enthralled!” Lucy Bertoldi, Historical Novel Society.
“Gripping, well-researched historical novel, revealing a violent age. Cecylee and the other characters are well-drawn, with great subtlety and depth.” Lindsay Townsend, author of TO TOUCH THE KNIGHT.
“The author immerses the reader in a complex and vivid world that is depicted with persuasive confidence.” Curtis Sittenfeld, author of AMERICAN WIFE.
“A wonderful novel to introduce Cecily Neville and historical biographical fiction to young female readers.” Mirella Patzer, author of THE PENDANT.
Cynthia Sally Haggard, Biography~
Born and raised in Surrey, England, CYNTHIA SALLY HAGGARD has lived in the United States for twenty-nine years. She has had four careers: violinist, cognitive scientist, medical writer and novelist. Why does she write historical novels? Because she has been reading them with great enjoyment since she was a child. Because she has a great imagination and a love of history that won’t go away. And because she has an annoying tendency to remember trivial details of the past and to treat long-dead people as if they were more real than those around her.
Cynthia’s biggest influence was her grandmother, Stephanie Treffry, who had a natural story-telling ability. As a widow in 1970s Britain, Grandma Stephanie didn’t drive a car, so would spend time waiting for buses. Her stories were about various encounters she had at those bus-stops. Nothing extraordinary, except that she made them so funny, everyone was in fits of laughter. A born entertainer, Cynthia tries to emulate her when she writes her novels.
In case you were wondering, she is related to H. Rider Haggard, the author of SHE and KING SOLOMONS’S MINES. (H. Rider Haggard was a younger brother of her great-grandfather.) Cynthia Sally Haggard is a member of the Historical Novel Society.
You can visit her website at www.spunstories.com.
WATCH TOMORROW FOR MY EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH CYNTHIA HAGGARD!!
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