Book Review: “Red Rose, White Rose” by Joanna Hickson

20892659One woman is torn between the loyalty to her birth family and the loyalty to her family by marriage. Now, this may sound like the story of Elizabeth of York, but alas, it is not. This story does take place in the fifteenth century, but it is the story of Elizabeth of York’s grandmother, “The Rose of Raby,” Cecily Neville. Born to the proud Neville family, who were proud Lancastrians, Cecily’s father, Ralph Neville, the Earl of Westmorland, arranged a marriage for his daughter to the young and ambitious Richard, Duke of York. She is now one of the most powerful women in England, but with power comes risks of ruin as Cecily has a secret that could be disastrous. War looms between the Red Roses of Lancaster and the White Roses of York, one that will transform English history forever, with Cecily caught in the middle. Her story is told in Joanna Hickson’s novel, “Red Rose, White Rose.”

Hickson begins her book by showing the interaction between Cecily and her half-brother, Cuthbert or Cuddy. Cecily is engaged to Richard Duke of York when she is kidnapped but is later rescued by John Neville, a distant cousin. In John Neville’s care, Cecily Neville’s life takes an unexpected turn, and a secret relationship is formed between the two. Although I know this was a fictitious relationship invented for this book, it still did not sit well with me. I have always thought Cecily was loyal and devoted to her husband and family (even though there were rumors of her and a knight having an affair), so this did not fit my view of Cecily Neville.

The bulk of this novel explores how Cecily and Richard were able to navigate the complex world of 15th-century English politics while their family grew. We also see Cuthbert fall in love and have his own family while he stays by Cecily’s side during such a tumultuous time.

This novel did not spend much time on the Wars of Roses. We get to see the origins of the major battles and how Edward became king, but we don’t see Cecily trying to hold her family together. I wanted to see her interactions with her sons Edward, George, and Richard during their feuding years. I wanted to see her reactions to Edward’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville and her interactions with her daughter-in-law. In short, I wanted a longer story that focused more on the Wars of the Roses and how Cecily Neville dealt with the changes in her family dynamic due to the throne’s power.

Overall, this novel was enjoyable and well-written. Some elements were included that I disagreed with their concept. The story was engaging and gave Hickson’s audience a sneak-peek into Cecily Neville, Richard Duke of York, and their children. If you want a solid novel about Cecily Neville, I recommend reading “Red Rose, White Rose” by Joanna Hickson.

Book Review: “The Sunne in Splendour” by Sharon Kay Penman

1321064._SY475_A banner decorated with three suns flaps in the wind on the field of battle. The young man behind this emblem is Edward, Earl of March, whose father Richard Duke of York and brother Edmund Earl of Rutland were tragically slain at the Battle of Wakefield. His younger brothers, George Duke of Clarence and Richard Duke of Gloucester, will help Edward carry their father’s cause for the family of York to rule England. When loyalty is questioned even among family members, only one man would truly stand behind Edward until the bitter end. That man would be Richard Duke of Gloucester, or as we know him today, the much-maligned King Richard III. He is often viewed as a treacherous child-killer who coveted the throne after Edward IV’s death, but is that accurately portraying the last Plantagenet king? Who was the real King Richard III? In her magnum opus, “The Sunne in Splendour,” Sharon Kay Penman presents her case for Richard III as a man betrayed, both in life and after his death.

I want to thank everyone who has recommended this book to me in the past. I know that Sharon Kay Penman recently passed away, and I felt that the only way to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth Field this year was to read this novel. I knew that it was well beloved in the Ricardian and the Wars of the Roses communities, so I wanted to see what made this novel so memorable.

Penman chooses to tell this story through multiple points of view, which, contrary to popular belief, works cohesively and allows each character to have their voice. We are introduced to Richard as a young boy before his father and Edmund die in battle. He is a timid child who witnesses death and destruction all around him and is trying to process everything. We see him grow from a scared child to a warrior duke and later into a king who had to deal with betrayal and heartache around every corner.

What Penman does brilliantly is how she writes her characters to make them so realistic that you forget that you are reading a novel. She fleshes out the conflicts exceptionally well, like the struggle between the brother Richard, George Duke of Clarence, and Edward IV. The love between Richard and his bride Anne Neville is pure and wholesome. The loyalty between Richard and Edward IV and towards Edward’s children, especially the princes in the tower is undeniable. Then there is the tension between the brothers and their cousin Richard Earl of Warwick trying to establish this new York dynasty. And what would a series of wars be without those fighting to keep their rule, which was the Lancastrians led by the ferocious Margaret of Anjou. It felt like I was being introduced to a new side of the Yorkist cause when I read this novel.

The action scenes are intense, and the betrayals hit harder than what you usually read in nonfiction books about the Wars of the Roses. This novel is truly a love letter to this period and a brilliant work of literature. I am not sure why I waited so long to read this masterpiece, but I am glad I finally read it. If you want an exceptional novel about the Wars of the Roses and Richard III, “The Sunne in Splendour” by Sharon Kay Penman is a must-read.