THE TRAITOR'S WIFE
Susan Higginbotham

 


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iUniverse, 2005
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Fourteenth Century England

Eleanor is the favorite niece of King Edward II of England, so it is natural for her to be chosen as a lady-in-waiting to Edwardís new queen, Isabella of France. Eleanor is blissfully in love with her husband, Hugh le Despenser the Younger. She is the sister-in-law of Edwardís homosexual lover, Piers Gaveston. It is a happy, friendly court until Isabella arrives.

King Edward loves his friends, loves to do things for them, loves to make them happy. He would prefer to ignore the rest of the world. He does not have the abilities it takes to make either a good ruler or a good husband. He isnít actively hostile toward the English nobility, just goes his own way. The actively hostile one is Piers Gaveston. Edward would do anything for Piers, including letting him run roughshod over Englandís peerage.

Not surprisingly, Piers makes too many enemies and comes to a bad end. Edward hasnít learned his lesson. He chooses another lover Ė Eleanorís husband. Queen Isabella and the country have had enough.

What follows is a well known part of history. What isnít well known is the story of Eleanor. Author Susan Higginbotham has made every effort to stick to the snippets about Eleanor in the contemporary records. Historically, she is little more than an appendage: sister to the last Clare Earl of Gloucester, niece to the King, wife to Hugh le Despenser. Higginbotham has stirred to life a girl who is naÔve and passionate, impulsive and loyal, with an amazing knack for getting herself into troubles we hope she can get out of.

There are reading difficulties in THE TRAITORíS WIFE. There were so few first names in use among the English nobility, that for quite a while we wish the author had weeded out some of the less necessary characters. It made me smile to read Higginbothamís rule for herself: no more than two people with the same name are allowed in the same conversation. Also, throughout the first portion, I had the urge to prune the extra phrases and clip the lengthy sentences. In spite of style issues, and the deadly events described, I read this 468-page book in twenty-four hours.

Susan Higginbotham is treading new ground in THE TRAITORíS WIFE. It isnít just her choice of the nearly unknown Eleanor as her viewpoint character. She also seems to have decided that Edward IIís enduring unpopularity was caused by his homosexuality and it is time to update our view of him. If that is so, it would be a debatable theory. Edward allowed both his lovers to indulge their piratical greed at the expense of his subjects. But that viewpoint does provide us with a humane new portrait. Throughout the book Higginbotham successfully redirects our attention to Edwardís limitless capacity for love. THE TRAITORíS WIFE is an endearing, involving story, made so by the unconventional characters of Eleanor and Edward. 

May 2006

 

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