A busy weekend lies ahead, and I’m still working on a long blog post about Jacquetta Woodville, Elizabeth Woodville’s mother, so I’ll leave you for the week with several reviews I did for the August Historical Novels Review. Two of the reviews, you’ll see, were for nonfiction. I enjoyed all three of these books, but I heartily recommend the Mary Tudor biography.
Judith Pella, Bethany House, 2008, $13.99 pb, 350pp, 9780764201349
It’s 1882, and Maggie Newcomb, just turned eighteen, is determined to win handsome Colby Stoddard for her husband—if, that is, she can keep him from being snared by beautiful Tamara Brennan, who’s visiting Maggie’s small Oregon town following a broken engagement. When Evan Parker, newly graduated from Harvard Law School, returns to his family in Maintown, Maggie sees the perfect opportunity. Not only can the awkward young lawyer defend Maggie’s friend Tommy against murder charges, he can join forces with Maggie to keep Colby and Tamara apart.
The second book in Pella’s Patchwork Circle series, which revolves around the members of a quilting circle and their daughters, Sister’s Choice is a charming and often gently humorous novel, with engaging characters, especially its heroine, who’s refreshingly blundering and down-to-earth. It also features that rarity in romantic novels—a bespectacled hero. I look forward to spending more time with these characters.
Lancaster Against York: The Wars of the Roses and the Foundation of Modern Britain
Trevor Royle, Palgrave, 2008, $29.95/C$32.95, hb, 368pp, 9781403966728
Lancaster Against York has a somewhat misleading subtitle: this is a study of the Wars of the Roses, certainly, but not an assessment of their influence on modern Britain. Subtitle aside, this is a well written and engrossing history of this turbulent time by an author without an axe to grind on behalf of either side.
There are a few irritating errors here—Richard III did not imprison the young Earl of Warwick in the Tower, for instance. Occasionally, too, Royle seems unaware of recent research, such as the discovery of a dispensation for the marriage of the Duke of Gloucester and Anne Neville. There are no annotations, which I found frustrating when I wanted to check a source, but there’s a useful bibliography and a helpful section listing the key players of the time.
On the positive side, Royle packs a great deal of information from a wide range of sources into a relatively short space, and his assessments are fair and balanced. For those wanting an introduction to the Wars of the Roses, as well as for those wanting to refresh their general knowledge, this will be a useful book.
The First Queen of England: The Myth of “Bloody Mary”
Linda Porter, St. Martin’s, 2008, $27.95, hb, 464pp, 9780312368371
If any historical figure is due for a reassessment, it’s surely Mary Tudor, characterized alternatively as a bloodthirsty fanatic and as a pathetic hag. In this lucid and intelligently written biography, Porter does an admirable job of showing us the woman behind the myth.
Porter gives us a full picture of Mary, reminding us that the queen who is often regarded as dour and sickly enjoyed fine clothes, gambling, and hunting. Her religious persecutions are not glossed over, but are placed in the context of their time and in that of Mary’s more positive actions regarding religion. Especially interesting is Porter’s examination of Mary’s fraught and highly ambivalent relationship with her younger sister.
It is not the “Bloody” Mary of popular history, or the lonely wife familiar from historical fiction, who emerges here, but the courageous woman who fought through many obstacles to get to the throne, then to stay there. Porter is to be commended for bringing this complex and much-maligned woman to life.