Monday, January 31, 2011

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: The Stolen Crown by Susan Higginbotham

The Stolen Crown by Susan Higginbotham escorts the reader through the whirlwind events of the reign of King Edward IV (of the House of York) who captured the throne of England from King Henry VI (House of Lancaster). We enter the story when Edward is almost secure on the throne, secure enough at least to marry the dowerless, influence-less Elizabeth Woodville, which causes a fair amount of difficulty. Those familiar with the history know what comes next. For those who don’t...

The king quickly awards the numerous Woodvilles with wealthy, titled spouses (to the irritation of the remaining nobility.) Kate Woodville is Elizabeth’s youngest sister and one of the protagonists of this engaging novel. Kate is wed to the young Duke of Buckingham, Harry Stafford. Harry, the other protagonist of the book, as we learn at the outset of the novel, will later be condemned to die as a traitor. The novel then shows us how this all came to pass.

The book is told in the dual first person voice. We listen to Kate and Harry both tell their stories. It’s a good device, because the history is complicated. Coming from the minds and voices of children it is narrated simply and straightforwardly. There is not a lot of extraneous political analysis, we are only given the same amount of understanding necessary for the self-interested very young duke and duchess, but it moves the tale along.

And move along it does!

Harry is close friends with Richard, the Duke of Gloucester. Higginbotham does a wonderful job of portraying Richard as slyly manipulative while Harry is guileless, easily manipulated, and self-important. With a few words here and there, Richard sows the seeds for years, solidifying Harry’s dependence and loyalty to him. Kate, who begins as a curious and lively child, grows into a loving and, for the most part, dutiful wife. Although she doesn’t shine with any great intelligence, she is a much better judge of character than her husband and possesses the intuition for doing and saying the right thing at the right time—a skill Harry sorely lacks.

This is a historical time frame that is filled with all the elements for a riveting read: passion, betrayal, murder, unbridled ambition leading to unspeakable crimes. Higginbotham shows us all that by using the viewpoints of two historically marginal characters who witnessed it all.

The book is written with the confident touch of an author who knows her history. A list of characters at the beginning will help you keep all the names straight. At the end, an author’s note points out which bits of information are factual, which are fancy, and what may be factual but is disputed.

Susan Higginbotham has a few more books to her name, and now, I will have to add them to my TBR list.