A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus

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I quite liked the idea of this book, about three young orphaned evacuees hoping to find a new family during the Second World War.  There was a bit of a Noel Streatfeild feel to it, and I loved the fact that the children were always reading and that a lot of the action centred on the local library.  Also, the snowball fight with forts and snow angels sounded distinctly Chalet School-esque!  The characters were mostly very convincing, and it could have been a very good book with a bit more attention to detail.

Unfortunately, the American author seemed to have done very little research into her subject.  There were irritating errors such as the school summer holidays taking place in June and July, when it’s July and August in England.  There were frequent mentions of rationing, but I honestly don’t think that she quite understood what it meant, because everyone always seemed to be eating cakes, biscuits and chocolate.  And we were informed that the wireless reports about air raids gave out so much detail that listeners were even told exactly which streets had been hit.  Hardly.

The use of American language by British characters grated as well, especially as I’m not sure that terms such as “students” and “assignments”, rather than “pupils” and “homework”, would have been used even in the US in 1940, but, OK, the book’s aimed at young American readers, and I accept that children of that age might be confused by unfamiliar terms such as “autumn” or “nappy”.  But the errors about the war and the school holiday times were disappointing.   And it was a shame, because, as I said, the characters worked very well and it could have been a very good book had a little bit more effort been made.

The plot was actually pretty daft, but I suppose it was no more unlikely than those in a lot of older books for young children, and this definitely had a pleasantly old-fashioned feel to it.  Our three children, two brothers and a sister, were orphans from a well-to-do family, living with their grandmother in London.  Oh, and that’s another thing.  Why are fictional evacuees *always* from London?!   You’d think that no-one was ever evacuated from any other city?  Gah!

Anyway, when she died, they apparently had no other relatives, family friends or anyone else to take them in.  They were at boarding school, so the logical thing would have been for them to spend their holidays at those hostel type places for children whose parents were in India etc, and for their solicitor to act as their legal guardian.  But, OK, children’s books aren’t always logical, so the rather bonkers idea which the solicitor came up with was to evacuate them to a village in the Midlands along with the pupils from a nearby state day primary school (er, even though the eldest boy was 12) and hope that the family with whom they were billeted would adopt them.  Er, right.  But not to mention the fact that they had money, so that they wouldn’t attract any gold diggers.

Of course, they had a couple of disastrous billets, and various problems at school, but did eventually end up with a very nice lady who was happy to adopt all three of them.   It was a lovely ending, and it was a lovely book in many ways, but those errors about Britain in general and wartime Britain in particular really were rather annoying.

No Shame, No Fear by Ann Turnbull

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  This month’s Facebook group reading challenge was to read a “tender teen romance”.  So I read a book about the persecution of Quakers during the early years of the Restoration.  It’s a tender teen romance, OK!  Will is 17 and Susanna is 15.  And it’s very hard to find historical fiction with tender teen romances which *doesn’t* involve someone getting killed in the Great War.

This is a “young adult” book (what used to be called a “book for older children” in my day) so it doesn’t go as deep as a book for adults would, but it’s still very interesting.  We tend to think of the Restoration as being a very positive time, after the repression of Cromwell’s era, but, of course, it wasn’t.  This book’s set in 1662, so we only get part of the Clarendon Code, the big clampdown on Dissenters/Nonconformists, but we get enough of it to see life made very unpleasant for our characters – they’re subjected to assaults in the street from local hooligans, to the authorities invading their homes and businesses, and then to imprisonment even for children.

This *is* a tender teen romance, as I said, set in Shropshire, and we see Will, the son of a well-to-do Anglican family, being attracted both to Quakerism and to Susanna, the daughter of a lower-class Quaker family.  Their romance and Will’s religious conversion take place against the background of oppression and the opposition of his family.  It’s the first book in a trilogy, so it ends with Will going off to London to seek work, but we know that they’re going to get married and live happily ever in the end.

It’s not a pleasant time – and, of course, it’s so ironic that the official view of 17th century England was that it was Catholics who persecuted religious minorities.  Both Britain and America are still fighting the battles of the 17th century, in many ways, and this is how things could be for people before the Glorious Revolution.  It’s worth remembering that.  Having said which, look at some of what went on under Pitt the Younger.  But that’s getting off the point.  This is a very interesting young adult book, and offers a very different perspective on a time which is generally associated with – apart from the Great Plague, which we possibly don’t want to dwell on too much at the moment! – jollity and theatres and Charles II’s love life.  It certainly wasn’t like that for everyone.

 

The Tsarina’s Daughter by Ellen Alpsten

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I’ve been waiting for decades to find a novel featuring the Tsarina Elizabeth as the main character, rather than as a minor character in a book centred on Peter the Great or Catherine the Great, so thank you to Ellen Alpsten for writing this, and thank you to Amazon for making it available on a 99p Kindle download.

However, it was quite an odd book: it couldn’t quite seem to make up its mind what it wanted to be.  Much of it was a historical novel, which was what I wanted, but there was a very odd fantasy (a nod to Game of Thrones?) passage about Elizabeth wandering into the mysterious Golosov Ravine and being attacked by evil spirits, quite a lot of very slushy romantic/sexual passages, and one bit, about Elizabeth making sweet bread with salt instead of sugar, which read as if it’d been written by Laura Ingalls Wilder or Elinor M Brent-Dyer and really did *not* seem to belong in a book about 18th century Romanovs.

All in all, it was a good read, though.  The Age of the Empresses is a fascinating period, but people just tend to jump from Peter the Great to Catherine the Great and ignore everyone in between.  However, Ellen Alpsten’s previous book focused on Catherine I, Elizabeth’s mother, and much of this book covered the reign of Anna Ivanovna.  It ended when Elizabeth deposed Anna Leopoldovna, Anna Ivanovna’s niece and regent for Ivan VI, but I think there’s a third book to come, which will cover Elizabeth’s own reign.  It’s fascinating that all these women ruled the vast Russian Empire in a man’s world.  And, indeed, that they all had lovers – in Anna Leopoldovna’s case, lovers of both genders – , which would have been considered very shocking at most European courts, but wasn’t in Russia.

Some of the lesser characters had been merged together, to keep the cast list down, but the author did explain that.  And Praskovia Ivanovna, the third surviving daughter of Ivan V, wasn’t mentioned at all, but, again, I suppose the author was trying to keep the number of characters down to levels she felt were manageable.  My one big gripe in terms of historical accuracy or inaccuracy was that the book suggested that Ivan V wasn’t actually the father of any of his daughters, which isn’t something that’s generally believed.

It even gave that as the reason why Elizabeth launched her coup, which I didn’t get at all. She launched her coup because she wanted to rule, and because the two Annas made a mess of things and were seen as allowing a German takeover of the court and causing great suffering amongst the Russian people.  Why not just stick with that?  Anna Ivanovna was absolutely vilified here, which is very much the Russian view and not always the international view; but the book was written from Elizabeth’s viewpoint, in the first person, so that fitted.

Despite the odd mishmash of styles, I did really enjoy this, and am looking forward to reading the third book in the series.  As I said, it’s wonderful to find books focusing on the women who ruled Russia in the period between the two “great” reigns.  Elizabeth made a huge contribution to Russian history, and indeed to European history, and she doesn’t deserve to be neglected in the way that she often is.  It really does annoy me how practically every book and TV programme on 18th century Russia just jumps from Peter the Great to Catherine the Great!  Well done to Ellen Alpsten for breaking that trend!

The Witches of St Petersburg by Imogen Edwards-Jones

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Well, on the plus side, it was high time that someone wrote a novel about the “Montenegrin princesses”, Stana (Anastasia) and Militsa, daughters of the King of Montenegro, wives of Russian Grand Dukes, and instrumental in introducing the Tsarina Alexandra to “Monsieur Philippe” and then to Rasputin.  On the minus side, most of this particular novel is nonsense, and that’s made worse by the fact that the author claims in an afterword that it’s largely based on fact.  As a work of fiction, it’s quite entertaining.  As a work which claims to be a relatively accurate piece of historical fiction, it’s a disgrace!   According to Ms Edwards-Jones, Nicholas and Alexandra had a fifth daughter, who was taken away and adopted; Alexandra and Militsa were having some sort of affair; and Militsa was the one who shot Rasputin.  I’ve never heard such rubbish.

She also seems to have a rather vivid and possibly rather warped imagination – some of the stuff about Rasputin’s carry-ons is admittedly probably true, but the idea that the Tsar and Tsarina indulged in public naked capers and that Stana and Militsa tried to create spells with miscarried foetuses is distasteful, to say the least.   And this silly idea that the Khlysty (a religious sect) indulged in all manner of orgies was made up back in Peter the Great’s time in order to discredit them.  Over the years, a lot of unpleasant stories have been made up about different religious groups.  It’s hardly very responsible of authors to propagate them.  And some of it was just plain bonkers.  Monsieur Philippe had a magic hat which made him invisible when he wore it?!  I thought this was meant to be a historical novel, not a children’s fantasy book.

Philippa Gregory’s claims about Woodville witchcraft are bad enough, but at least the Woodvilles, having died over half a millennium ago, aren’t likely to be hurt by them.  Stana and Militsa both died within living memory.  I really do dislike this trend of making up all sorts of rubbish about people who are either still alive or who may still have immediate relatives and friends living.   The book contains some ridiculous errors, as well.  There was no change of dynasty in Montenegro following an assassination.  That was in Serbia.  Wrong country!   Montenegro is not primarily Roman Catholic: it is primarily Montenegrin Orthodox.  And why do so many people make a mess of Russian names?

This was my book for the Facebook group reading challenge, which was to read a book about witches, but I freely admit that I wanted to read it because it was about Imperial Russia, and already had it on my TBR pile when the “challenge” about witches was posted.   I also have to admit that I’ve rather enjoyed ripping it to shreds, just because it annoyed me so much!

But what a shame.  These two women are not particularly well-known, but they should be, because they did play an important role at the court of “Nicky and Alix”, and it was partly through their influence that Alix – poor woman, desperate to produce a son and heir, and then, when he arrived, desperate to keep him safe because of his haemophilia – became involved with Rasputin.  That certainly played a part in the fall of the Romanov dynasty, and the communist takeover of Russia has had a huge influence, to put it very mildly, on world events ever since.  This could have been an excellent and very important book … but, as it was, I’m not really sure what the author was playing at with it.

 

A Man of Honour by Barbara Taylor Bradford

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This is the prequel to A Woman of Substance – which was the first “proper grown-up” book I ever read and is one of my all-time favourites –  concentrating on the early life of Blackie O’Neill, Emma Harte’s closest friend.  Don’t be expecting anything of the quality of A Woman of Substance, or you’ll be disappointed: none of Barbara Taylor Bradford’s books have ever come close to it, and this one certainly doesn’t.  But, as a one-off read, it’s not bad.  There are a few ridiculous continuity errors – you’d think that authors would know their own books! – and the mess that the author’s made with British titles beggars belief, but the character of Blackie is very much as he is in the original book.  And we meet up with other old friends, Emma, Laura and the Kallinskis, at the end – even though the scenes are copied pretty much directly out of the original books, and some of them don’t even involve Blackie!

We also get that wonderful sense of northern and national pride that we got in the original book, as we see Emma, Blackie and David set out to build up businesses from nothing.  Long before society worried about “representation” and “diversity” in fiction, Barbara Taylor Bradford showed how the industrial cities of northern England were made great by Protestants, Catholics and Jews together, and I always think that that was a very attractive feature of A Woman of Substance.  However, in this book that sense of pride is tempered with a greater sense of the poverty that many people faced at the time, partly, I think, because attitudes have changed generally – as we’ve moved further away from the Great War, that sense that the years before it were some sort of golden age has been muted.  But there’s still very much a positive spirit, as Blackie and his uncle build new lives in late Victorian/Edwardian Leeds.  Northerners will also be amused by the references to “Hettys”, the posh cafe in Harrogate founded by a Swiss confectioner.  Don’t ask me why the author hasn’t just used its proper name 🙂 !

The continuity errors are mainly in relation to the Fairleys.  Edwin is referred to as the elder son, when in fact Gerald was the elder son, and Adele Fairley is described as being dark, when she was fair.  It doesn’t really affect this book, but it’s annoying!   Blackie, as I’ve said, does very much come across as you’d expect.  There isn’t the same depth of emotion that there is in the original book, though: even Blackie’s complex feelings for both Emma and Laura aren’t really gone into that deeply.  The plots are quite shallow, too: a lot of new characters are introduced, mostly from an aristocratic family for whom some of the O’Neills work, but then they fade into the background, and you end up wondering why they were there at all.  It would have been better if she’d focused on the Fairleys instead of bringing in new people, maybe telling us more about the relationship between Adam Fairley and Elizabeth Harte, but for some reason she doesn’t seem to have wanted to do that.

I sound as if I’m moaning a lot, and I don’t mean to!   It’s quite an interesting portrayal of a young Irishman coming to Leeds to start a new life, and the plots with the random aristocratic characters are entertaining enough.  As I’ve said, just don’t be expecting anything that lives up to A Woman of Substance!  But it’s not bad as a book in its own right, and it’s nice to learn a bit more about Blackie’s life before he met Emma.  And it’s worth reading for the nostalgia factor, because A Woman of Substance will always be such a classic.

A Marriage of Lions by Elizabeth Chadwick

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 Yet another superb book from Elizabeth Chadwick, this time about Joanna de Munchensy, granddaughter of William Marshal, and her husband William de Valence, half-brother of Henry III.   I was recently fortunate enough to visit lovely Pembroke Castle, which was closely associated with them in the time of Edward I, but this book’s set during the previous reign.  As I’ve said before, Henry III’s reign tends to be strangely overlooked, and so do the de Valences, although their son Aymer’s name will be well-known to anyone familiar with the reign of Edward II – and anyone who’s read Carol McGrath’s recent The Damask Rose may recognise Joanna’s name from there.

It really is brilliantly written.  The characters just jump off the page.  It’s packed with history, but never in a didactic way; and it’s a wonderful read.

It starts off with Joanna as a young girl in the household of Eleanor of Provence (not, as the family tree at the start of the book proclaims, Eleanor of Provenance.  Very careless proof-reading there!).  Not that much is known about Joanna’s early life, but Elizabeth Chadwick explains in the afterword where she’s made assumptions.   Following the deaths of all her Marshal uncles without heirs, and then the tragic early death of her brother, Joanna unexpectedly becomes a great heiress, and is married off to William, one of the sons of Isabella of Angouleme’s marriage to Hugh de Lusignan.  The book shows the marriage as being very happy, and, as far as we know, it was.

It was one of a series of marriages of Henry’s half-siblings to wealthy heirs and heiresses, and resentment about their influence was one of the reasons why relations between Henry and many of his leading barons, notably his brother-in-law Simon de Montfort, deteriorated, resulting in war.  I think de Montfort’s much better-known these days than he used to be, because of Leicester Poly being renamed after him, but it’s still a period of history which doesn’t attract as much attention as it might.  Everyone’s heard of the Magna Carta, but how many people have heard of the Provisions of Oxford?

De Montfort’s traditionally had quite a positive press as playing a big role along the road to democracy, but I don’t like him.  And Elizabeth Chadwick clearly can’t stand him (or his dad, although de Montfort snr doesn’t appear in this book).  So we do get a fairly one-sided view of events – Henry’s mess-ups in France and Sicily are played down, the Lusignans/de Valences are very much presented as the victims of a smear campaign and xenophobia, and de Montfort comes across as a money-mad, power-hungry tyrant.   That’s an observation, not a criticism 🙂 – no reason that novels shouldn’t be one-sided, as long as they’re not factually inaccurate!   And we see William temporarily forced into exile, and Joanna very resourcefully hiding large amounts of money inside bales of wool as she travelled to join him.

And then, of course, de Montfort gets his come-uppance, and the book ends with the de Valences riding high.

It all comes across so well – the history, the personalities, the personal relationships, the descriptions of court, all of it.   Very, very good book.  Elizabeth Chadwick’s books never disappoint, and this one certainly doesn’t!

 

 

The Royal Game by Anne O’Brien

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Well, I never knew that Margery Paston and Edward Poynings were first cousins.   Not that that’s really very relevant to anything, but even so.  Anne O’Brien’s back on form with this book, but has opted for a change from writing about royal women and turned instead to the Pastons, of Paston Letters fame.

However, the book’s not only called “The Royal Game” but has pictures of white roses, crowns and sceptres on the cover, and “She does not need a crown in order to rule” emblazoned across it, giving the very strong impression that it’s a sequel to her recent book about Cecily Neville.  Which it isn’t.  Very odd.  What it *is* is a very interesting picture of the fortunes of an ambitious family in 15th century Norfolk, and how lawless things were before Henry VII sorted them out, with powerful families or those with powerful connections able to make a claim to a property and just barge in … and how much time people like the Pastons spent arguing about it all in court!

It’s not really about either lawsuits or fighting, though.  It’s told largely from the viewpoints of three women.  The main character is the heiress Margaret Mautby, who married into the Paston family, then only two or three generations removed from serfdom, and brought them estates both as part of her own dowry and through her connections with Sir John Fastolf (on whom Shakespeare’s Falstaff was based, although for some reason Anne O’Brien doesn’t mention this).  The others are her sister-in-law Eliza Paston, who married into the Poynings family and became the mother of Edward Poynings, of Poynings’ Law fame, and Elizabeth Woodville’s cousin Anne Haute, who hoped to marry Margaret’s eldest son John.

I could have done without the chapter headings being “Margaret Mautby Paston” and “Elizabeth Paston Poynings”, rather than just “Margaret Paston” and “Elizabeth Poynings”, the book being set in 15th century England rather than 20th century America, and also the the number of times that people want to “talk with” someone rather than “talk to” someone (ditto); but those are fairly minor quibbles.

This book, the first in a series, takes us from 1444 to 1469.  We do see the path of political events, as allegiances shift around, and the Pastons throw their lot in with the Yorkists but struggle for power and position even once Edward IV’s on the throne.  I haven’t actually read the Paston Letters, but Anne O’Brien is usually very good on historical accuracy, so I assume that the book does reflect what they say.  Quite a lot of it’s about personal relationships, but we also see the legal wranglings, the way in which different families all tried to claim the same properties, and how a family like the Pastons could be disbarred from holding property because of their “unfree” ancestry.  We tend to think that the feudal system in England died out with the Black Death and the Peasants’ Revolt, but there were still a few serfs until 1574, and elements of the feudalism lingered until Restoration times.  And we also see the Pastons forging a family tree which showed a free and entirely fake pedigree going back to the Norman Conquest, and getting away with it!

Pandemics can change things.  In the aftermath of the Black Death, everything was in flux, and the Pastons were able to take advantage of that.  The Paston Letters are usually associated with the Valentines sent to Margaret’s son John (confusingly, she and her husband John had two sons who were both called John, so this was not the same John who was engaged to Anne Haute!) by his future wife Margery, and Margaret’s daughter Margery’s controversial marriage to the family’s bailiff Richard Calle.   Romance is more interesting than lawsuits, after all!   But they do tell us a lot about 15th century England, and this book is a great read.

I just wish I knew what the point of the misleading front cover was …

 

Over the sea to Skye and The Flower of Scotland

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By Evelyn Tidman and Janet Macleod Trotter respectively.   As is probably rather obvious from the first title, these are both novels about Flora MacDonald, although the first book is set almost entirely in 1746, when she helped Bonnie Prince Charlie/the Young Pretender to escape to Skye, dressed as her maid, and the second book follows her life from birth up to her marriage in 1750.

They both tell fairly similar versions of events – that Flora never wanted to be seen as a heroine, that she was pretty much pushed into helping Charles Edward by male friends and relatives, but that she felt sympathy for his plight and said that she would have done the same for anyone in trouble.   Her story was romanticised initially at the time and then even more so by the Victorians, but she wasn’t really a romantic heroine, and certainly never wanted to be a romantic heroine.

There is plenty of romance though, as we learn about Flora’s relationships with her future husband Allan MacDonald of Kingsburgh, Charles Edward’s aide and Flora’s childhood friend Neil MacEachen and, in the first book, another of Charles Edward’s aides, Felix O’Neill.    We also learn a lot about Highland life and culture, and the terrible consequences of the ‘Forty Five for the Highlands.

The whole episode’s been very much romanticised over the years, by Sir Walter Scott and even to some extent by our own William Harrison Ainsworth, and to some extent both books go along with that, suggesting that there was far more widespread support for the Jacobites than there actually was, and showing women wanting locks of Charles Edward’s hair and so on.  However, they also adopt a fairly realistic approach in that they show how Highlanders were split over the invasion, how many were afraid of the consequences of supporting the Jacobites, how memories of the failure of the ‘Fifteen ran deep … and how, ultimately, the ‘Forty Five brought tragedy in its wake.  But not for Flora, who was feted by aristocratic admirers and went on to make a happy marriage, although neither book shows her later life in America and Canada,

Both books depict Flora very well, without overly romanticising either her nature or her role in events, and I’d recommend both of them.   It’s a strange episode in history, and an interesting one.

The Mapmaker by Frank G Slaughter

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This month’s Facebook group reading challenge was to read a book set in Portugal, which was a bit problematic, as there isn’t a lot of English language historical fiction set in Portugal and I’ve read pretty much all of it!  However, I did find this.  It turned out that only part of it was set in Portugal, and, in this disastrous tennis season, I kept getting distracted into reading up on medieval Mallorcan mapmakers, but never mind.

This book’s an interesting mixture of the work of real life cartographers under the auspices of the Portuguese prince now known as Henry the Navigator, some quite detailed information about navigational techniques of the time; things probably believed to be true when the novel was written (in the 1950s) but now doubted, notably the existence of a school of navigation at Sagres; stories and theories about the Americas being discovered by the Venetians long before Columbus; legends which the characters believe but the reader isn’t meant to (all the Prester John stuff); and Boys’ Own adventure stuff.   That sounds rather strange, but I did really enjoy it!

Our hero is the Venetian cartographer and navigator Andrea Bianco, who was a real person and is best known for his 1436 atlas showing “the island of Antillia”, which some people believe to be mythical but others believe to be the coast of Florida – although, in this book, the native inhabitants refer to it as “Acuba”, so possibly the reader’s meant to think that it’s Cuba.  There are various theories about Venetian sailors having reached the Americas in the early 15th century, and we just don’t know whether or not they’re true.

In this book, Andrea’s working for Henry the Navigator, alongside various Mallorcan Jews or conversos who were amongst the leading cartographers of the time, and he holds the secret of measuring latitude.  He’d been captured by Turks and held as a slave, during which time he not only learnt how to measure latitude but travelled to China and Japan.  However, at the start of the book, he escapes during a storm and is fortuitously rescued by a wealthy Portuguese man and his beautiful daughter, Leonor.  It transpires that his dastardly half-brother was plotting against him and was the reason he was captured.  The said dastardly half-brother then makes it impossible for him to stay in Venice, so off he goes to Portugal, where he soon gets in with Henry, and joins a voyage to the coast of Africa.  We get some distressing scenes of slaves being bought from African slave traders and brought to Portugal, with the Church preaching that this is all to the good and it’ll save their souls: however, Andrea stands out against this, and any slaves assigned to him are immediately set free.  He also makes it clear that the Turks and Arabs are far more advanced in their knowledge of navigation than any Europeans are, and that the ancient Phoenicians were too.

Off they go on another voyage, to the Canary Islands, but things go wrong and they end up in the Sargasso Sea.   We do know that Portuguese ships at this time did reach the Sargasso Sea, but, here, our ship ends up in “Antillia”.   There are various adventures, in which our hero saves the life of the beautiful Leonor, who for some inexplicable reason has come along on the voyage, and eventually, thanks largely, of course, to Andrea, they make it back to Portugal.  At this point, the dastardly half-brother reappears and tries to kill him, but Andrea manages to escape – of course.  The dastardly one gets his come-uppance, and Andrea walks off into the sunset with the beautiful Leonor.

So it’s a bit daft in parts, but the information about navigational techniques is genuinely interesting.  The idea that the Portuguese reached the Americas before Columbus but Henry hushed it up to avoid distracting attention from his plans in Africa, which is how things are explained here, is highly unlikely; but could the Venetians have got there first?  Well, you never know!  And this is a Boys’ Own book for adults, rather than books by, say, G A Henty, which are clearly aimed at children, so it was something different!

 

Cecily by Annie Garthwaite

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   As the title suggests, this is a novel about Cecily Neville, Duchess of York.  There’ve been a number of novels in recent years about or featuring Cecily (contrary to what the blurb says about her being overlooked!), but this is a particularly readable one.  We follow Cecily from the early years of her marriage to Richard of York up to their son Edward becoming king – through their time in France, their time in Ireland (where some interesting points were made about Richard, as Henry VII would do later, playing on his Celtic connections to win support), and the tangled politics of the English court as we head into the Wars of the Roses – and the text is full of historical facts and detail without ever seeming too academic for a novel.

We also very much see her as a woman, coping with multiple pregnancies, miscarriage, the loss of children in infancy, and worries about her surviving children.  We see her ambition for Edward and her concern about finding husbands for her daughters, and, of course, her relationship with her husband and with her siblings and other family members.

And what I particularly liked was that the author clearly assumes that the reader knows all about what’s to come.  Jacquetta Woodville plays a big part in this book, with the impression being that she and Cecily were long-term frenemies, and that Cecily and possibly even Edward would have known Elizabeth Woodville as a child.  I’m not sure that that’s entirely accurate (!), although all the main historical events shown are accurately portrayed; but it was interesting to see Jacquetta woven into the story, and also several references to Eleanor Talbot, the woman to whom Richard would later claim that Edward was secretly engaged when he married Elizabeth.

We’re also told that Richard would have quite liked a big christening for Edward, but that Cecily, very nervous after their first son had tragically died shortly after birth a day earlier, was worried about tempting fate and just wanted it done quickly and quietly.  No reference is made to the absurd story that Edward’s real father was an archer called Blaybourn and that that was why the christening was so quiet, but the author clearly wants to make it obvious that she thinks that that story’s nonsense, and assumes that the reader will understand what she’s doing.

Oddly, though, given all that, there’s only one brief reference to the birth of Margaret Beaufort, none at all to her marriage to Edmund Tudor and the birth of their son, and, although we’re told about the birth of Isabel Neville, no mention was made of Anne.  There’s quite a bit of scandalmongering, though, about Edmund Beaufort senior being the real father of Edmund Tudor (which I don’t believe for a moment) and Edmund Beaufort junior being the real father of Henry VI’s son Edward (which, let’s face it, is quite likely).

Marquerite of Anjou is vilified.  I really do feel sorry for that woman!   I think, in forty years or so of reading historical fiction, I’ve read one novel which was positive about her.  What was she supposed to do, married to someone who, for medical reasons, wasn’t fit to be king?  But, OK, the book is written from Cecily’s viewpoint, and plenty of other people are vilified too!

The fifteenth century is a controversial period in English history, and people will have their own views on the events and personalities of the time, but this is a really, really good historical novel, and particularly impressive given that it’s the author’s first book.  My one big quibble is that it’s written in the present tense, which is OK for reviews 🙂 but a bit infantilising for books.  Other than that, highly recommended.