The Traitor’s Wife: A Novel of the Reign of Edward II by Susan Higginbotham
“The Traitor’s Wife” is first and foremost the story of Eleanor de Clare, niece of King Edward II of England and wife of Hugh Despenser the Younger, a man who would eventually be much reviled in England. Through Eleanor’s eyes we watch unfold the tragic kingship of Edward II, a man who wasn’t really best suited to be king, as he continually alienated his barons and wasn’t much of a military leader.
In comparing “The Traitor’s Wife” to the other book I’ve read about Edward’s reign, “Queen of Shadows,” I was really struck by the spin an historical fiction writer can place on events. While reading “Queen of Shadows” I felt pity for Isabella, she being largely ignored as her husband squandered his position in the country, I felt that she was always trying to do what was right. In Higginbotham’s book, Isabella is a cold-hearted woman who is in the game for her own power – although probably for the same reasons, having watched her husband destroy his power. Hugh was a much more sympathetic character in “The Traitor’s Wife,” yes he wanted power and the best for his family, but he didn’t seem as coldly calculating as in “Queen of Shadows.” I’m sure the truth for both persons was somewhere in between their two depictions, although I did prefer Hugh as slightly less of an evil genius, since his plans didn’t end up working out all that well in the end.
I found “The Traitor’s Wife” to be an overall engaging and comprehensive view of Edward II’s reign. Higginbotham clearly knows her stuff. Every so often a bit of prose would strike me as slightly off and pull me out of the story, but that could just be me as I was never actually able to figure out what my objections were. This was originally a self-published novel (which is the version I read) and want for a better editor might account for the little issues I had, but it is a remarkably robust, well-polished book for something that was self-published. Of course, this is probably evident by the fact that it has now been picked up by Sourcebooks and was released by them on April 1, 2009. I’m not sure if any additional editing was done once Sourcebooks picked it up, but it is a book I would still recommend, overall, to historical fiction buffs even if it is being published exactly as is. I can’t wait to read more of Higginbotham’s work as she has continued to hone her craft.