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Blood and Roses Kindle Edition
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Margaret was once a naïvely optimistic young woman ahead of her marriage to Henry VI, King of England. Marriage would put her in the position of power, of respect, of providing an heir to the throne. As the story goes, we see a real development in Margaret’s attitude as she discovers her life isn’t going to work out quite as simple as that. Once married, Henry is very withdrawn from her, his only talk is of God and he looks to have little, if any, interest in his wife, instead becoming a ghostly figure of little affection. The answer is – of course – for Henry and Margaret to have a son, as it is expected that with marriage comes the new heir. But as the years pass, the loveless, sexless marriage sees that no child is conceived and in turn, Margaret’s character and temperament changes. I found the desperation she possessed fascinating to read, and how it led her to make choices she’d once have never considered, becoming more selfish and manipulative with each passing day. She was an interesting character to read about.
Catherine’s storytelling showed use of a ton of research – from the characters to their allegiances and betrayals, the conflict and the battles, the judgment and representation of Margaret, the dialogue and the insight into life in that period of time. I would have loved a bit more detail on the style of that time to allow a stronger picture of appearances and settings to form in my mind, but that’s really just a minor point because I was enjoying the narrative so much, I ended up wanting more. The sign of a good historical book – for me – is when the moment you’ve finished, all you want to do is Google and consume more information and background on the era you’ve been reading about and that’s exactly what I did here because Catherine quite effortlessly drew me into the story of the Wars of the Roses, making me want to learn more.
As I settled into the story and the narrative progressed, the tension within the characters built up, as did the power games, and I was more and more hooked with every turn of the page. Set in a time where women are merely seen to be there to give birth and little else, it was satisfying seeing Margaret attempt to take control and change the course of history. For readers who know the history, the author’s creative manner of filling in the gaps provides a few surprises to the plot and the style of writing is in such a way that the pace pulls you in, commandeering your attention right through to the end where there’s the momentary need to remind yourself to take a breath. Blood and Roses is an extremely engrossing read and I for one am looking forward to reading future books from this author.
So…Margaret of Anjou. Isn’t she the French princess who married Henry VI of England, had an affair with the Duke of Suffolk and bore him an illegitimate son before wandering around carrying his severed head? Wasn’t she Shakespeare’s “she-wolf of France” who led the army of rapists and murderers bent on sacking Ludlow until confronted by heroic Cecily of York? And when Margaret triumphed over her great enemy, the Duke of York, didn’t she wipe his brow with a handkerchief soaked in the blood of his child, before putting a paper crown on his head, stabbing him, and putting his severed head on a pike? Wasn’t she just the mother-in-law from hell to her son’s wife, Anne of York? That Margaret of Anjou?
Um…no. Sometimes, when “history” has passed judgement on the losing side, we can turn to fiction for a closer reality. Catherine Hokin starts with what we do know.
Marguerite’s life is introduced by the older version of herself, a woman desperately trying to stave off the judgement of history by writing her own truth—a desire she knows is almost certainly doomed.
[Quote] “She wants, well it is simple really, she wants to be remembered as more than the monster she feels sure history will paint her. A simple wish but it is out of her hands.” [End Quote]
The child Marguerite was raised by two of the strongest women in medieval Europe, her mother Isabelle and grandmother Yolande, famously known for being strong leaders in the place of their weak husbands. “My childhood was shaped by women, women so strong they made the men around them fade to shadows.”
With introductory comments and remarks from her future self, we meet Marguerite as a young girl, excited with the prospect of marrying a handsome young king and becoming his queen. Throughout her proxy marriage and journey to finally meet her husband, the truth of her marriage is kept secret from her—that Henry VI is obsessed with religion, his hold on reality tenuous at best.
When they finally meet, Henry makes it clear that he sees himself as a man of God, devout and above all celibate. After years of frustration, in fact, he tells her:
[Quote] “I have my God, Margaret, and I will turn to him when the demands around me become too great. I will find solace. You will have nothing.’ It was not a curse, it was not a threat; he said the words as though they were a simple truth and then he left her, bruised and shaking as though from a blow.” [End Quote]
Alone in a foreign court, with even her name changed from Marguerite to Margaret, the young queen realizes that the slightest misstep could be fatal. But she also realizes something else. As the daughter and granddaughter of strong women, she recognizes the uses and seduction of power.
Thus she charts a path over the next ten years designed to solidify her power. At the same time, she hides her secret—her virginity in an era where a woman’s greatest value lies in her ability to produce sons. And when at last, her greatest dream and triumph is achieved and she does have a son, everything she has is devoted to the single-minded determination to see him crowned king.
Catherine Hokin has imagined many insightful explanations for the events of Margaret’s life. Most spectacular and surprising are the machinations leading to the conception and birth of her son Edward—in a brilliant development that I didn’t see coming. (Of course, neither did Shakespeare, Margaret’s contemporaries, or future historians!)
We watch as Margaret becomes not just a woman, but a queen who walks a minefield where any misstep means death. She uses friends, forces opponents to serve her demands, and ruthlessly eliminates enemies. She tells herself that every action is justified by her concerns for her son and her crown.
But as an old woman, alone and (relatively) poor, Margaret acknowledges the real truth.
[Quote] “She has endured pain and loss that would have broken many but she still survives. She has enjoyed power and knows what a strange thing it is: she has learned how, once tasted, it is very hard to lose the love of it and, too often, the pursuit of it becomes more than the getting. She has had it and she has lost it; she has never learned not to want it.” [End Quote]
Blood and Roses is a big story, played out on epic battlefields, with the fate of a nation as the stakes, her son’s life as the entry fee, and a crown as the prize. Catherine Hokin’s meticulous research into the historical elements, her obvious empathy for the decisions Margaret makes, and her ability to weave Margaret’s story as woman, mother, and queen are remarkable.
Being greedy, I could have wished for just a bit more. The book is already huge, but I’d have liked to see more description of the settings, a sense of what Margaret sees, smells, touches, tastes, and surrounds herself with. Dialog is always going to be a problem, and certainly I don’t expect the book to read like lines from Shakespeare’s plays. But it would have been fun to get a little more sense of the time and place in history. As a woman and even as a queen—especially a queen—Margaret of Anjou had to maintain the fiction that she was what her grandmother advised all those years ago.
[Quote] ‘Because people believe that power rests with kings and with men and they believe that a woman’s greatest strength lies in her virtue and her meekness. They like their queens to smile and obey their husbands like all women are expected to do. You may not like that, you may not find such a part an easy one to play but it is what the world expects and you have to learn it.’
You will struggle with it as we all struggle, that is the real truth you need to learn.[End Quote]
And even more, I would have liked to see or hear about the passion that clearly lives within the quiet face Margaret guarded so carefully. But overall, Blood and Roses is a huge achievement. By reimagining the life of a woman history labelled a villain, Catherine Hokin reminds us to look carefully at the things we think we know about history that just aren’t so. I would give it four stars for a spectacular debut effort, and certainly look for more from this very talented writer.
***I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.***
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