Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Queen by Right by Anne Easter Smith

Title: Queen By Right
Author: Anne Easter Smith

Genre: Fiction (Historical / English / Medieval)
Publisher/Publication Date: Touchstone (5/3/11)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: Yes!
One-sentence summary: The life of a young noblewoman who witnesses some of the most tumultuous events in medieval Europe, from Jeanne d'Arc to court intrigue around Henry VI to her own family's claim to the English throne.
Reading Challenges: British Books, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Yes.  While it does have the 'chopped head' figure so common on historical novel covers, the layout is interesting and enjoyably accurate to the novel!  The castle featured is Raby Castle, where the heroine Cecily was born, and the falcon on the woman's arm refers directly to a handful of scenes from the novel. 

I'm reminded of...: Margaret George, Anya Seton, Alison Weir

First line: A scream pierced Cecily's dreamless sleep.

Did... I find the wealth of extras helpful?: YES.  There are thirteen pages to help the reader along: a glossary, maps, genealogies, and a who's who that I found increasingly valuable as the novel went on.

Did... I still go a little cross-eyed at the enormous cast of characters?: YES, not helped that everyone has one of the same five names.  

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: I think most historical fiction fans will want to give this a try; at nearly 500 pages, it might be worth a splurge to have this meaty beast with you to read at your leisure. (Book Depository has it at about $11US.)

Why did I get this book?: Having loved Pale Rose of England, which had a new-to-me historical setting, I was very eager to go a bit earlier and explore another unfamiliar era.  Plus, I've heard how fabulous Smith's other novels were and was excited to see for myself.

Review: When I was growing up, my mom wanted to be a young adult historical novelist but was stymied by history: women were married at a young age or historical costume styles were far racier than we modern folk are comfortable with (her example was something like ancient Egyptian women had their breasts exposed, if I recall correctly). So she never wrote her novel but as a result we both immensely enjoy a historical novelist who wrestles well with historical accuracy and modern reader sentiments.

Anne Easter Smith is really astounding at this. Her novel opens with Cicely as a young girl -- six -- and she manages to convey a child having a childhood rather than living as an object being kept to, essentially, later trade. Even if, in this era, the idea of childhood didn't exist, Smith's articulation of what Cecily's young life could have been like put me as a reader both at ease and unease. Time was spent fleshing out the enormous cast of characters and so, as Cecily ages and her life begins to get more and more complicated, the reader is invited to become embroiled in the drama of the times.

And talk about dramatic times!  In addition to the usual kind of court intrigue one expects of this type of historical novel, Smith inventively incorporates other notable events.  Cecily's obsession with Joan of Arc and her trial reminded me of myself and the ways I can get hooked on CNN and other news outlets come some disaster or notorious crime trial.  It made for a heroine who felt very real and easy to relate to, someone I could imagine as a friend.

At more than 470 pages, this hefty novel allows for detailed exploration of the events in Cecily's life.  At times, I confess, I was a little overwhelmed by the amount of people I had to keep track of but Smith tries very hard to make each character memorable if they're significant to the story -- although occasionally I found that made for some flat secondary characters (I found myself often thinking, 'Oh, so this is cranky Anne' more than once.).

Readers familiar with the Lancaster/York Wars of the Roses will likely enjoy this thorough novel and those new to this era will get an education.  This is the kind of classic historical novel I think of when I enthuse about the genre, one that places the reader square in the time and makes otherwise shadowy historical figures feel compelling and real.  Despite whatever small struggles I had keeping track of people, Cecily's story kept me engaged and when I reached the final page (with its satisfying nod to an event from the beginning of the novel), I felt a pang of bittersweet sadness at having to say goodbye to her and her family.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY! 

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Queen by Right to a lucky reader!  Just leave a comment on this entry to be entered.  For another entry, comment on my Q&A with author Anne Easter Smith.  Ends 6/10, US readers only. 

15 comments:

  1. Sounds great :D Though I do wonder about Joan of Arc, one of Higginbotham's heroines were obsessed with her fate too. But what a minor detail, yes big thing so I can deal :)

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  2. I'd love to win this book!! My email is Allisonmharper@hotmail.com.

    Thanks!

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. Entry for Natalie: nataliej02099at)yahoo(dot)ca via GoodReads.

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  5. I am a huge historical fiction nut, and I love to read about times and places that are new to me. I have seen quite a few reviews for this book, and they have all been positive, so I would be really interested in being considered in your giveaway! It sounds like such a great book, and you wrote a really wonderful review on it!

    zibilee(at)fgearo(dot)net

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  6. Great review. I have Easter Smith's other books on my shelves, but I have to admit I've not read any of them yet. I must get to them so that I can justify buying this one :-)

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  7. This sounds really good and I'd love to read more about Cecily. Never seen anything focused on her before.
    Thanks for the review :)

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  8. No need to enter me for this giveaway as I just finished reading it yesterday. I truly loved this book. I enjoyed her previous novel Daughter of York, but Cecily was much more interesting than her daughter Margaret. I too was so thankful for the maps and even more so for the family trees! You are so right about her obsession with news about Joan of Arc, I am right there too with big news stories. Easter Smith really made her someone you could relate to. And this is one of the more accurate to the story covers I have seen in a while! Great review!

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  9. I entered the giveaway on your interview post, but I just wanted to tell you I love your reviews. So polished and well-thought-out.

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  10. Thank you for including me.
    tiredwkids at live dot com

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  11. Wonderful review :)
    Sometimes i can be distracted by a long list of characters, but it seems from your comments, that that doesn't detract from the readability of this book.
    No need to enter me in your giveaway; my TBR pile is just too long :(

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  12. I would love a chance to win and review this book. I am a huge historical fiction fan.
    Melanie
    melaniehope66@hotmail.com

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  13. A great review on what sounds like a wonderful book! I would love to be entered into the drawing, and when I read the book (won or bought) I will remember to make a chart of the characters so I don't get too lost. :) I've had to do that before.

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  14. Entry:

    I really want to read more about Cecily, she is such an intelligent and strong person. I appreciate the tremendous amount of research done by Anne Easter Smith.

    CarolNWong(at)aol(dot)com

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  15. Love your reviews! Thanks!

    jasmine716 at gmail dot com

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