Anne O’Brien – The Virgin Widow
Length: 448 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Started: 05 December 2010
Finished: 12 December 2010
Where did it come from? From the publishers, via LibraryThing’s Early Review program.
Why do I have it? I’d loved A Secret Alchemy by Emma Darwin, but thought it would be only fair to read about the War of the Roses from an opposite perspective.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 08 November 2010.
The Nevilles will tie
their family to the King, no
matter whose heart breaks.
Summary: Anne Neville sits right at the heart of The War of the Roses, yet relatively little is known about her life. In The Virgin Widow, Anne O’Brien brings her to life as a spirited and strong young woman, surrounded by powerful people and the plots they weave. Anne is the daughter of the Earl of Warwick, otherwise known as Warwick the Kingmaker, close advisor to King Edward IV. When still a child, she falls in love with and is briefly engaged to Richard of Gloucester, the youngest brother of the king, and ward of her father’s house. However, Warwick soon falls out of favor with the king, and Warwick’s treasonous behavior means that the Nevilles must flee to France. Once there, they make an uneasy alliance with the Lancaster queen Margaret of Anjou, and plot to return to England at the head of the Lancaster forces. Anne is used as a bargaining chip in these negotiations, becoming the betrothed of Margaret’s son Edward of Lancaster, and thus placed firmly in the center of all of Margaret’s most treacherous schemes. But how can Anne marry the heir of Lancaster, even to support her family’s fortunes, when her heart still lies with the youngest son of York?
Review: I knew I was tired of the Tudors, and consequently have been staying away from all things Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. After reading The Virgin Widow, I can now officially say that I’m pretty burnt out on the War of the Roses as well. Or maybe it’s broader than that; machinations of the British royalty are just not holding my historical fiction interest all that much anymore. As a result, though, I’m having a hard time separating my reaction to this book from my reaction to its topic. After all, it’s not the book’s fault that I’m largely disinterested in the troubles of the crown.
However, it is the book’s fault for picking a character that is not super-sympathetic to begin with, and not doing much to help her cause. This may be due to the fact that the last War of the Roses book I read (Emma Darwin’s superb A Secret Alchemy) focused on Elizabeth Woodville, but I don’t hold much truck with the Nevilles and their plotting. When Anne starts whinging about how her father has “been cast in the role of traitor again,” I just wanted to shake her and shout “well, that *is* what happens when you commit treason, you simpering little moron!” She eventually gets her head screwed on straight and stops believing quite so firmly in the supremacy of family loyalty, but by the time she does, I’d lost most of my patience with her and her uncanny tendency to put herself in exactly the best position to be manipulated by the people around her.
I was much more interested by O’Brien’s portrayal of Richard of Gloucester. Not so much the romance angle of the story – we barely see Richard before Anne decides that she is totally and irrevocably in love with him, so for much of the book, I couldn’t tell whether or not he was really worth all of the fuss. But when we do see him, he’s an interesting blend of cold aloofness and passionate fire, of a strict moral code but just enough twisted scheming that he could believably be painted as Shakespeare’s villain. However, O’Brien ends the story with the birth of Anne’s first child – well before Richard becomes Richard III. While I can accept that it’s not the part of the story she wanted to tell, it also felt a little bit like she took the easy way out, by not having to reconcile her upright, romantic-lead version of Richard with the Richard who imprisoned the two Princes in the Tower.
In general, this book was well-written, well-plotted, very detailed, provided a new side of the War of the Roses story that I hadn’t encountered before, and did a good job bringing its characters to life. I just didn’t particularly care for those characters, which made it unfortunately hard to lose myself in enjoying their story. 3 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: If you enjoy royalty-based historical fiction and aren’t yet sick of the War of the Roses, this one’s worth a shot… but definitely check out A Secret Alchemy for a point of view from the Woodville side of things.
First Line: Isabel whimpered. With creaks and groans the ship listed and thumped against the force of water as if it would be torn apart by the next wave.
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- p. 29: “Important seats in the chancel because, as Isabel whispered to me as the congregation massed behind us, we were the most important family present.” – the space about the altar of a church, usually enclosed, for the clergy and other officials.
- p. 29: “And there at the center of it all was Bishop George Neville, my father’s youngest brother, my uncle, splendid in the rich cope and gilded miter of his office.” – a long mantle, esp. of silk, worn by ecclesiastics over the alb or surplice in processions and on other occasions.
- p. 61: “A Milanese confection, chased and gilded, a magnificent affair from the visored bascinet to the pointed solerets, it would encase him cap-a-pie.” – a close-fitting medieval helmet of light steel usually with a visor; a steel shoe made of overlapping plates, forming a part of a medieval suit of armor.
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