THE PLOT: ‘Cecily’ by Annie Garthwaite is a historical novel set during the Wars of the Roses. It follows Cecily, Duchess of York, throughout her marriage to Richard of York – de facto heir to the English throne. Though Cecily’s mother was born a bastard and Richard’s father died a traitor, the couple seek to cement their status at court and their place in the line of succession. From the captaincy of Normandy to Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Richard rises and falls, with Cecily at his side. But when the Lancastrian King names them traitors for crimes they didn’t commit, it’s Cecily’s intelligence and scheming that makes the House of York grasp for the crown.
RATING: I was blown away by this stunner of a novel so I’m giving it five well-deserved stars. Tudor fiction is my comfort zone so I knew I’d like this book. However, when I started reading, I was worried it wouldn’t live up to my expectations because there were a few chunks of exposition and info-dumping. Nevertheless, I needn’t have been concerned because I quickly became absorbed in the character. This book really got me. It made me cry and run to my boyfriend to read aloud my favourite passages. It made me fall in love with a new writer and I cannot wait for what Annie Garthwaite publishes next.
GOOD BITS: The best part of this book is undoubtedly Cecily herself. Some may call this a feminist retelling of history, but I think it’s a realistic imagining of a strong matriarch. Rather than being explicitly feminist, this book simply shines a light on what’s already historical record and suggests credible human emotion behind each action. At first, I was worried that Cecily would be unlikeable – she’s acerbic, sometimes cruel, and obsessed with status and her own intelligence. But that fierce drive to triumph against all odds is what makes Cecily such a brilliant protagonist.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: I wish the novel started earlier and think the prologue could’ve been used to greater effect. If I were editing this novel, I’d make the prologue into the scene where nine-year-old Richard arrives at Cecily’s house. The scene would include Cecily being told that she must marry him and her siblings teasing her for being stuck with a traitor’s son. I think this would give the reader the necessary backstory and help demonstrate why Cecily grows up determined to succeed in life. Chapter one would then fast-forward to sixteen-year-old Cecily watching Joan of Arc.
OVERALL: I’d recommend this book to lovers of Philippa Gregory, Alison Weir and Elizabeth Chadwick. In particular, if you’ve read ‘The White Queen’ series by Philippa Gregory, this provides a wonderful view of the other side of the conflict and you’ll be enthralled with the depictions of Jacquetta and Marguerite.