The Wars of the Roses are seen through the eyes of a woman in 15th-century England in this expansive historical novel about marriage, loyalty, love and betrayal.
Cecylee Neville is 9 years old when she’s betrothed to Richard Plantagenet, the Duke of York. Years after they marry, an affair she has one night leads to the birth of an illegitimate heir, an event that alters the course of history. As King Henry VI of Lancaster descends into madness, the house of York—comprised of Cecylee’s husband and, later, her sons Edward, Richard and George—begins a long, hard-fought campaign, often marked by betrayal, to win the throne of England for themselves. Through careful, comprehensive research, Haggard creates a world rooted deeply in fact that’s also rich with dramatic detail. Descriptions of Henry’s descent into madness are particularly striking, as are the myriad relationships and duplicities that shaped the era, ultimately causing the war, which unfold intimately as Haggard couples fact with the affecting personal details. For example, when Cecylee’s daughter, Nan, is married off at age 6 to the Duke of Exeter for political reasons, the child calls out to her mother: “Mama. Don’t let them take me! I’ll be good, I promise. I don’t want to go.” However, while recounting this particularly complex 70-year span of history, Haggard’s faithfulness to historical fact results in a sprawling text that often sacrifices story, character development and dialogue. Much of the narrative is spent describing the events surrounding the fall of the House of Lancaster and the brief ascendancy of the House of York, which causes the story to sometimes get lost in the mire of chronology, thus reading more like a history textbook than a novel. Nonetheless, the attention to period detail may provide enough intrigue to keep some readers enthralled.
A dense, well-researched work of historical fiction that sometimes reads like a history lesson with the compelling story merely a backdrop.