The War of the Roses storm through the country, and Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, plots to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne.
But when the Yorkists are defeated at the battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandon her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.
Stripped of her lands and imprisoned in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit. One that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King Edward IV.
I have to open this review with the confession that shortly into the beginning of the book I was doubting my choice – I have never before been a fan of books written in the form of letters, and it took a little getting used to. This being the case I was surprised by the depth of the absolute glee I got from this book as the story moved forwards.
The letters and events detailed in the book all include Cecily Neville, excepting those that are written between her sisters, and I absolutely adored those letters – the absolute sass in the inter-sibling banter was stunning and I laughed out loud on more than one occasion. Those letters provided a levity that utterly delighted me at times when I wasn’t expecting to be amused and I am deeply admiring of Anne O’Brians genius in including them in her book. Cecily herself is an astute and fascinating woman but she is not particularly funny – something which her sisters absolutely make up for.
Cecily Neville is a deeply interesting character to view the War of the Roses through, and I have never before truly appreciated the rollercoaster of emotions and loyalties that the War of the Roses truly inspired in those who were involved in it. If you thought that Henry VIII changed his mind with each meal, his predecessors can teach you a thing or two about indecisiveness. There are times during her story where the wind changes so swiftly that I almost got whiplash – Soap operas have nothing on medieval politics.
The bit which makes it hit home deepest is when Cecily simply doesn’t know who to pray for – when her children (by birth and by marriage), her nephews, her brothers and her cousins are all scattered accross different sides of the battlefield, which side do you pray for? When the war is between family members, who can possibly win?
The legacy of a civil war is that it is impossible to win when neighbour fights neighbour and the ‘enemy’ is not a faceless rabble, but your own friends – giving civil wars the reputation of being particularly bitter.
Anne O’Brian is glorious in the way that she evokes your sympathies and shock for the experiences of Cecily Neville and she carries the story at an enjoyable pace. I am particularly impressed with her ability to write from the perspective of a very serious natured character and still inspire such deep emotions in her readers. I particularly upset the dog when I yelled ‘They did what?!’
In summary, I thoroughly loved it and am tucking it in between my favourite stories of that period in order to love it all over again in the future.