Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Rose for the Crown, by Anne Easter Smith

Okay, so it’s been a long time since I’ve posted.  Almost unforgivably long.  But it’s been a distracted few weeks.  I was leant Doctor Who on DVD (menh..), Mad Men is back and I’ve been catching up with past seasons (swoon!), and the book I was reading was over 600 pages long.  In essence, there were a lot of distractions while I was trying to get through a big brick of a book.  But I finally got done!  My last read was A Rose for the Crown, by Anne Easter Smith.  This book (and two more of hers) has been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years now.  I wanted to get into a sweeping historical, biographical fiction, and this book did it.

A Rose for the Crown tells the story of Katherine from childhood to mid-life.  Katherine was born on a farm in the 15th century, and through a series of coincidences, ends up the mistress to Richard of Gloucester (Edward York’s youngest brother, later king).  The book tells the story of Katherine’s life, specifically her relationships with friends and family and Richard.  

What’s commendable about this work is that it is impeccably researched without being cloyingly so.  As a historian, it’s pretty easy for me to spot when the author is using a primary source as inspiration for text and/or plot development.  Easter Smith’s work avoids this pitfall, while remaining historically rich.  I didn’t notice the dynamic until the end when there is a passing mention of something in a letter written by Richard to Katherine; I was able to point at it and say “that right there is referencing a primary document on the subject.”  

Maybe Easter Smith was able to avoid this common practice because of the subject matter; Richard’s personal life isn’t as well documented as some of the other kings of England.  The historical record shows he had a mistress and illegitimate children, but it doesn’t provide much more information than that.  Easter Smith had a blank canvas that she filled in with a casual and natural use of her knowledge of the historical age.  It is impeccably well done.

As I’ve said numerous times, I’m all about character development.  If an author writes a good, strong character, I’m all over their work.  Easter Smith’s Katherine is likable enough, but not highly engaging.  I think my lack of engagement with her is what took me so long to finish the book.  That being said, Katherine is a pleasure to spend time with, and I found myself comparing her to Philippa Gregory’s female characters, and being relieved with how Easter Smith painted her.  

One last note on characters, and that’s about Richard.  I had a hard time reconciling the gentle, compassionate, and loving character that Easter Smith created in Richard with the historical zeitgeist knowledge that he was the king who sent his nephews to the Tower, from whence they disappeared (and yes, I just used whence in a sentence).  In the end, Easter Smith provides some resolution to this disconnect that, I suppose, works, but I’m not a fan of re-scripting history, so I’m not entirely sure I agree with her plot point choices.  And no, I can’t tell you more without ruining the reveal, so you’ll have to read the book yourself.

All told, I would recommend this book to those who enjoy slow-burning historical fictional biographies.  It’s a treat getting to read a historical fiction about England that isn’t related to Henry VIII.  Looking at Easter Smith’s other books, I get a sense that they each tell a similar tale of another woman connected to the Plantagenet court, and I’m sure I’ll get around to reading them.  There doesn’t seem to be a sequence to them, so I don’t feel pressed to dive into them right away (which is good, since there are a few books that have been released this month by other authors I’ll be picking up today to read this weekend!).  

Final verdict?  A good read for those who enjoy history, and a strong author I’ll be returning to in the future.  

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