A noblewoman pays the price for her loyalty to an unpopular king and her unfaithful husband.
Married off to Hugh le Despenser, a knight of lower stature, Eleanor de Clare nonetheless considers herself lucky: Not only is she the eldest daughter of an earl and pet niece of King Edward II, but she is genuinely in love with her husband. Her luck turns, however, when Hugh proves to be ruthlessly ambitious and begins an eight-year affair with Edward that yields him enormous power, as well as the resentment of various lords and barons who never respected the weak king. Hugh also makes an enemy of Edward’s wife, Queen Isabella, who raises an army to oust the king so that her son can assume take over the throne. When her campaign succeeds, Hugh is tried as a traitor while Eleanor and her children are imprisoned, indignities heaped upon them by the vengeful Isabella and her power-hungry lover, Roger Mortimer. Though Higginbotham effectively introduces sympathetic characters, she eventually reduces Isabella and Roger to overly spiteful caricatures. Worse, Eleanor’s reaction to her husband’s infidelity is remarkably subdued, given her complete devotion to Hugh–it’s particularly jarring in a story that otherwise conveys emotions and relationships quite poignantly.
At times melodramatic and uneven, but ultimately, entertaining historical fiction.