Tuesday, April 7, 2009

'The Traitor's Wife' by Susan Higginbotham

As a long-time fan of historical fiction, I consider myself a person who knows quite a few things of what makes a good historical novel and what doesn’t. In recent years, readers have been given many opportunities to bask in enjoyments of historical fiction as well as many not so pleasant opportunities to be caught in reading books that besides being set in some moment of history, had nothing to do with history or with good fiction. Susan Higginbotham’s The Traitor’s Wife with no doubt belongs to the first category and it will be enjoyed by many.

The Traitor’s Wife tells the story of Eleanor, a niece of the infamous King Edward II. King Edward is mainly infamous, or famous, for his supposed homosexuality. Eleanor is married to Hugh le Despenser at a very young age, but she falls in love with him immediately and irrevocably. The book tells how Eleanor grows up to be one of the wealthiest people in England, a devoted and loving wife adored by her husband as well as her uncle, King Edward and many other people close to her. It also tells how her family comes to be the most despised family in the kingdom as her husband Hugh is suspected of having an affair with the king and as he quite blatantly strives for more and more power, more and more wealth and ill-advises King Edward every step of the way. But The Traitor’s Wife is not so simple a novel as to focus on these three characters only. There is Queen Isabella, Edward II’s wife to consider. She becomes one of the most evil characters as she plots to have her feelings of hatred towards the Despenser family realized into action, there is Roger Mortimer, queen’s lover and a man responsible for much suffering and many cruelties, and countless characters who struggle with loyalty, treason, love and life in 14th century England.

All I want to say is ‘Wow!’. But that wouldn’t be enough, so I’ll elaborate. I absolutely devoured the book. Ms. Higginbotham wrote a breathtaking epic of a novel, in my opinion. The characters are very complex, so much so that till the very end I wasn’t sure if I had ‘black and white’ sort of feelings towards any of them. The issue of King Edward’s homosexuality and his intimate relations with Piers Gaveston, considered to be his first lover, and Hugh le Despenser, his second and last lover were handled gracefully but with many shocking moments as well. There was nothing off-putting about it and I was glad. Susan’s writing is flawless, the book being a little over 500 pages, never had a boring moment in it and Ms. Higginbotham's passion for history is quite contagious. Many times during reading the book, I had to stop myself from delving into my own little research of those times, in fears that I might find out something that would ruin the book’s plot. My beloved character was of course Eleanor, who grew and matured as the story progressed, and whose love and loyalty to her husband brought tears to my eyes many times, and trust me, I am not prone to crying fits. Anyway, Susan Higginbotham is a wonderful writer, quite frankly right up there with Margaret George, if you ask me, and The Traitor’s Wife is the historical novel to be read and treasured by scores of readers.

Special Thanks to Paul S. from Sourcebooks for supplying me with a copy of this book.

Visit these blogs for more reviews of The Traitor's Wife :