This book is an imaginging of the life of Cecily Neville, wife of Richard Duke of York and mother of Edward IV and Richard III. She was a formidable woman in her own right, which sources at the time despised her for.
After an unpleasant run-in with a Philippa Gregory novel many years ago, I’m wary of female-centered historical fiction unless it comes recommended by a trusted source. This book appeared on my library list but by the time it got to me I couldn’t remember how it got there, so I approached it with some trepidation. Historical fiction by and about women tends to come in one of two flavours – soppy romantic stuff where the token nod to feminism is portraying women as political pawns with no agency, and books full of feminist rage. This treads an impressive line between the two – Cecily and the other women, particuarly Henvy VI’s queen Margaret of Anjou, show plenty of agency and are barred from very little by their gender, on account of their high social status. I love rage fuelled books as much as the next angry feminist, but sometimes I want something a little gentler, and this was exactly right.
Some reviewers have found Cecily difficult to like – not warm enough, not motherly enough. I liked her lots. (What a lot of people forget now is that throughout history, anyone who could afford it didn’t look after their own children. Cecily handing her offspring off to servants at every opportunity would have been expected.) She does the best she can with the hand she is dealt, including a husband who is loving and competent but less ambitious and clever than she is.
One of the cover blurbs compares this book to Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell series. I wouldn’t go that far; they’re in a class of their own. It’s still very, very good. The prose is readable but well crafted – there were passages that made me pause and admire. Even though I knew broadly how things turn out (my expertise lies in the early medieval period, not the practically early modern) there is plenty of suspense and tension thanks to the structure.
Definitely recommended if you want a read with some substance that isn’t too difficult.