Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Susan Higginbotham's The Traitor's Wife ~ Reviewed

The Traitor’s Wife
by Susan Higginbotham
Paperback: 512 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark (April 1, 2009)
ISBN-10: 1402217870



Set in twelfth-century England, The Traitor’s Wife delves into the reign of Edward the II and Edward the III. Following the story of Eleanor (Clare) Despenser, Susan Higginbotham, takes us through her life story from marriage to death as she survives scandals, war and betrayal.


With as many novels, books, movies and documentaries available about Henry VIII, I was intrigued to learn about a novel which examines prior generations of England’s monarchy. The period of history Ms. Higginbotham explores does not disappoint.

Set in the fourteenth century, Edward II’s realm is falling apart due to failed military campaigns, political upheaval, and his inability to reign. Distracted by his extramarital relationship with men, he fails to recognize his danger and how disgruntled the lords of the realm have become. He is not without adoring subjects, however, and chief among them is his niece Eleanor Despenser.

The Traitor’s Wife follows her story as she marries Hugh Depenser and enters the court as a lady-in-waiting to the new queen of England. Despite her promising beginning, she is not destined for a life of ease. When her husband becomes the king’s lover, and her queen overthrows the king to set up the reign of her son, Eleanor Despenser soon finds herself in jeopardy.

The first half of the book moves slowly and is burdened endless historic facts. Lady Depenser is unlikable for being too sweet—too innocent, too forgiving. Midway through the story, though, the book’s tension increases and I found growing very interested in the characters’ fates.

History does not reflect well on Edward II, and Susan Higginbotham does a good job presenting a different face to him—an affectionate with a kind soul. The balance of character depth, however, becomes spoiled when his wife, Isabella, is painted as a diabolical villain without redeeming qualities.

The story is told omnisciently and I found myself wishing it had been told strictly from Queen Isabella and Lady Despenser’s points of view, putting a twist on the title, while cutting back on history lessons stuffed between the scenes.

My review is mixed. For the first half, I did not think I would recommend the novel. During the second half, I found myself Googling the characters in order to distinguish fact from fiction. Overall it is an intriguing book.

Reviewed by: Jessica Dotta

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