The Queen of Last Hopes by Susan Higginbotham
Published by Sourcebooks
Along with another French-born woman, Isabella the She-Wolf of France, Margaret of Anjou is probably one of the most hated queens of English history. Frequently referred to as the ‘French bitch’ in practically every War of the Roses book I have ever read, she is finally getting the chance to tell her own side of the story in Susan Higginbotham’s “The Queen of Last Hopes.” Quite a story it is, too, having to defend her mad husband’s throne and her son’s birthright against usurping royal cousins.
Higginbotham has certainly matured in her prose since her first book, “The Traitor’s Wife.” I think that her plotting has improved as well, “The Queen of Last Hopes” kept a good pace over the entire 320 odd pages. I will also say for Higginbotham, that she does a fabulous job presenting her subject in a realistic and sympathetic manner. I have always hated Margaret of Anjou as she appears in works of historical fiction, but Higginbotham made me examine the circumstances surrounding her infamy, which were really very sympathetic. Most of the War of the Roses fiction lately has a decidedly Yorkist slant to it and starts with or after the deaths on the battlefield of Edward IV’s father and older brother, which tends to elicit sympathy for Edward’s cause, but going back farther to examine the events leading up to the war has given me some pause in my own Yorkist leanings. Although, if you’re interested, I’m still not really pro-Lancaster because their reign started with the murder of another anointed ruler. I am not a scholar, though, these are just my personal thoughts.
Of course, any book that makes someone reexamine considered beliefs is, in some senses at least, a good one, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily unequivocally good. The greatest strength of “The Queen of Last Hopes” was the fully fleshed out character of Margaret, which is why it was so disappointing to see Higginbotham weakening the book by letting other characters narrate from time to time. Over the course of the book, four different men, including Henry VI and their son, Edward, were given chapters to narrate. Some of them received but one, some of them narrated multiple chapters. Unfortunately, this was not done with any particularly great style. Perhaps if their chapters had been at more regular intervals and of more regular lengths, and if the transitions from man to man had been done in a way to add to instead of detract from the book’s structure, it could have worked. As it was, however, I found the men’s chapters to be at best a distraction from Margaret, who was truly at the heart of the book. At worst, they were lazy storytelling, taking chapters where it was simply most convenient to impart events which Margaret did not witness firsthand.
Overall I mostly enjoyed the book and would recommend it to those looking to experience this familiar story from a Lancastrian point of view, but I am disappointed that it was not as strong as it could have been.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.