Sourcebooks Landmark, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-1787-6
Historical Fiction, 2009
The Traitor’s Wife first came out in 2005, self-published by the author under iUniverse, and Sourcebooks Landmark eventually acquired this book. This edition contains some minor revisions from the original self-published edition, if I am not mistaken. This review was originally written for the iUniverse edition, but given that the revisions made in the newest edition are said to be minor, I suppose the main points of the review will still stand.
With it being a work of historical fiction, The Traitor’s Wife kicks off with a rather intimidating three-paged introduction to who is who in this story. This wife in the title refers to Eleanor de Clare, the wife of the infamous Hugh le Despenser who will move on to become one of the most hated men in England during his time for his dalliance with and subsequent control of King Edward II. We begin with thirteen-year old Eleanor leaving the convent for her upcoming wedding to nineteen-year old Hugh. Over the next few years, she will witness the exile of Prince Edward’s close companion Piers Gaveston, the coronation of King Edward II, the arrival of Isabella to become King Edward II’s bride, the fall of Piers Gaveston, and – oh dear – the rise of her husband to take over Piers’s place beside King Edward II. Throughout it all, Eleanor remains loyal to her husband even when the world threatens to collapse around her.
The Traitor’s Wife is a meticulously detailed story but ultimately, as interesting as I find it, I can’t help feeling as if I’m reading the written word equivalent to a BBC documentary rather than a work of historical fiction. I am never given a good glimpse into the workings of Eleanor’s mind, which is a pretty big misstep given that I need to understand why she would remain loyal to a man who is sleeping with the king to gain political advantage for his family over the other noble families. Eleanor is presented as this sweet and rather naïve person at times who believes the best of his husband and therefore doesn’t really understand that her husband is sleeping with the king when everyone else and his grandmother already knows. And when she does, she… well, let’s just say that I don’t fully understand what motivates her to do the things she does, which makes it hard for me to appreciate this story since she’s supposed to be the placeholder and narrator for the reader.
Not only do I feel distanced from the heroine, I also am quite taken aback by how nice most of the characters in this story are to each other. For a story to be set in the time of King Edward II’s reign, this one is surprisingly sanitized and pleasant with everyone being so dandy and polite to each other. This results in a sense of uniformity among the characters, making it hard for me to tell them apart at times.
On the bright side, the writing is clean and easy to read and the story moves ahead in a brisk pace. I’m not too familiar with this time period and I find the events that unfurled most interesting to follow. However, at the same time I wish that Ms Higginbotham has done more to engage my emotions with her story. As it is, this is a most readable book that, for the most part, fails to capture my attention and reel me into the story.