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Jun 6, 2012

Her Highness, The Traitor by Susan Higginbotham

Good book. Hate this cover.

Her Highness, The Traitor by Susan Higginbotham
Sourcebooks Landmark; June 1, 2012
Historical fiction
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:
Frances Grey harbored no dream of her children taking the throne. Cousin of the king, she knew the pitfalls of royalty and privilege. Better to marry them off, marry them well, perhaps to a clan like the Dudleys. Jane Dudley knew her husband was creeping closer to the throne, but someone had to take charge, for the good of the country. She couldn't see the twisted path they all would follow. The never–before–told story of the women behind the crowning of Jane Grey, this novel is a captivating peek at ambition gone awry, and the damage left in its wake.

In Her Highness, The Traitor Susan Higginbotham writes of the famous Tudor era during Edward VI's short reign, and the struggle for the crown that followed King Edward's death in 1553. Although the story is not a new one for Tudor fans, the author chose two intriguing figures of the time to narrate the story: Frances Grey, a niece of the old King Henry VIII, and Jane (Guildford) Dudley, who was married to John Dudley, father of the now famous Elizabethan courtier, Robert Dudley. The Tudor era is fraught with similar names (Robert, Henry, Edward) and nobles who's titles can come and go on a king's whim, which makes for confusing reading in any Tudor novel.

Higginbotham attempts to stay true to the story of the women she features, without too many detailed accounts that were going on behind the scenes. Frances Grey is popularly known as the witchy mother of the nine-day queen Lady Jane Grey and is rarely shown in a sympathetic light. If the author strove to right that wrong opinion of Frances, she succeeded. I loved the character of Frances from the beginning: she was stubborn, realistic, and not too fanciful as one may expect born with royal blood.

Jane Dudley's story is similar to Frances' as they each have children caught in the tangled web their husbands created. Frances' daughter was put on the throne of England, attempting to bypass the Lady Mary. Bloody Mary did not get the moniker for nothing, as the novel will demonstrate. Frances and Jane each become Duchesses due to the political prowess of their husbands, but the titles end up having a high price.

The story is told in alternating first person point of views by the two duchesses, which caused me to think twice each time a new chapter began. I felt it may flowed better had the two narratives been told in third person, but eventually I took it all in stride. The author's own witty sense of humor starts off quickly with the novel, with small joking statements being made which at times seemed out of place, knowing the subject matter to be would include a few deaths of family members, but the serious situations when they occurred were handled with due decorum and were quite emotive at times.

I enjoyed reading about the behind the scenes dynamics of the families of the two women, but felt there may have been a bit left out, but at 336 pages this was not meant to be a hefty historical. The reason for putting Lady Jane Grey on the throne seemed vague, the people who supported this decision were few, and a lot of the goings-on and would-be-drama simply seemed glazed over considering the myriads of upheaval that the women experienced during the reign of Edward VI, Jane Grey, and then Bloody Mary. The men in the main protagonists' lives seemed to be represented well enough as characters in a novel and not much else, but I did get entrenched in the storyline enough that I wound up wishing for a happier outcome for the families despite what the history books tell us.

Yet, Higginbotham has a firm grip on her details and tells the story as close to fact as she can, adding in the personal details of the courtiers in such a way that they would be proud of. The traits of each of them could be imagined to the fullest, and Higginbotham presents a plausible and pleasurable historical account that all Tudor fiction fans would enjoy. Susan Higginbotham is one of the best accessible historical fiction authors out there and will soon be well known for very enjoyable and well-researched novels.

My cover review where I rant about this book cover to get it out of my system (& not into this review).
My other Susan Higginbotham posts, includes reviews such as Queen of Last Hopes which was a Best of 2011 for Burton Book Review.

Stay tuned for an alternative history (you heard me) guest post from Susan Higginbotham for her blog tour tomorrow, and a chance to win your own copy.