Saturday, May 14, 2011

Book Review: Virgin Widow by Anne O'Brien

Synopsis from

A dazzling historical novel set during England's War of the Roses- the story of the courageous Anne Neville, future wife of Richard III, who comes of age in a time of chaos...

Anne Neville, daughter of the powerful Earl of Warwick, grows up during the War of the Roses, a time when kings and queens are made and destroyed in an on-going battle for the ultimate prize: the throne of England. As a child Anne falls in love with the ambitious, proud Richard of Gloucester, third son of the House of York. But when her father is branded a traitor, her family must flee to exile in France. As Anne matures into a beautiful, poised woman, skillfully navigating the treacherous royal court of Margaret of Anjou, she secretly longs for Richard, who has become a great man under his brother's rule. But as their families scheme for power, Anne must protect her heart from betrayals on both sides-and from the man she has always loved, and cannot bring herself to trust.

My Review:

3.5 Stars
Anne O'Brien's Virgin Widow tells the story of Anne Neville from her early years as the daughter of the powerful Earl of Warwick until the birth of her son with Richard, Duke of Gloucester. 

Although little is known about Anne Neville's life, using the tumultuous years of the Wars of the Roses as a backdrop, O'Brien is able to bring this little known figure to life.  She is portrayed as a strong and likeable young woman, one who has to endure an unhappy marriage to the Prince of Wales, son of Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI, as well as the disintegration and division of her family in the struggle between the Yorks and the Lancasters for the throne of England, before eventually finding happiness and contentment with Richard, Duke of Gloucester.
As a love story this novel is entirely satisfying.  Anne Neville and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, are well drawn and engaging.   In addition, their love story is developed in such a way as to be entirely plausible.   Unfortunately, I was not expecting a love story to be the principal focus of this novel when I picked it up.   The synopsis I read (different from the one included above) led me to believe this book would focus more on the political aspects of the era in which Anne Neville lived rather than the romantic (I believe the synopsis I've included as part of this review is a more accurate reflection of the novel).  The political is definitely discussed - it would be difficult to write a novel about the Neville's of this era without it - but it rarely takes centre stage and, as a result, this aspect of the novel didn't fulfil my expectations.   The author states in her author's note that the book is meant as a romance, but the note was placed at the end of the book so I didn't read it until I'd already finished the novel.   I wish I'd known this going into reading the novel, as I would have adjusted my expectations accordingly.
Despite the novel not being entirely what I expected it would be, I still enjoyed it overall.  I thought the story flowed well and moved quickly and, while I felt certain secondary characters were poorly fleshed out or too black and white, the main characters were quite well-developed.   With respect to events and peoples of the Wars of the Roses period, O'Brien stuck closely to known historical fact.  My only criticism of the novel relates to certain speculation taken by the author with respect to the nature of the relationship between Margaret of Anjou and her son, Prince Edward.   I felt the nature of the relationship postulated by the author was far too sensational - it has no basis in historical fact and detracted from the storyline rather than enhancing it.  In fact, this one bit of sensationalism is the reason this novel became a 3.5-star read for me rather than a 4-star one. 

I recommend this novel to readers interested in getting a general overview of the Wars of the Roses period or to those looking for a nice historical love story. 

Note: This novel comes from my own personal collection. 

If Virgin Widow or the Wars of the Roses is of interest to you, you might also like:

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman (synopsis from 

A glorious novel of the controversial Richard III---a monarch betrayed in life by his allies and betrayed in death by history.

In this beautifully rendered modern classic, Sharon Kay Penman redeems Richard III---vilified as the bitter, twisted, scheming hunchback who murdered his nephews, the princes in the Tower---from his maligned place in history with a dazzling combination of research and storytelling.

Born into the treacherous courts of fifteenth-century England, in the midst of what history has called The War of the Roses, Richard was raised in the shadow of his charismatic brother, King Edward IV. Loyal to his friends and passionately in love with the one woman who was denied him, Richard emerges as a gifted man far more sinned against than sinning.

This magnificent retelling of his life is fllled with all of the sights and sounds of battle, the customs and lore of the fifteenth century, the rigors of court politics, and the passions and prejudices of royalty.

The Queen of Last Hopes by Susan Higginbotham (synopsis from

A man other than my husband sits on England's throne today.  What would happen if this king suddenly went mad?  What would his queen do?  Would she make the same mistakes I did, or would she learn from mine?  

Margaret of Anjou, queen of England, cannot give up on her husband - even when he slips into insanity.  And as mother to the House of Lancaster's last hope, she cannot give up on her son - even when England turns against them. This gripping tale of a queen forced to stand strong in the face of overwhelming odds is at its heart a tender tale of love. Award-winning author Susan Higginbotham will once again ask readers to question everything they know about right and wrong, compassion and hope, duty to one's country and the desire of one's own heart.