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** Overview of Plot **
This is a tale about the 15th century life and times of Anne Neville who was the youngest of the two daughters of the Earl of Warwick.
This ambitious and influential Earl has become known as The Kingmaker, changing sides to forward his own powerbase during the English Civil War known as the War of the Roses. Having no sons, his daughters' potential inheritance could attract a high ranking husband. Thus his daughters were married off to the side that his strong militia were backing at the time of their wedding.
Anne was used as a pawn by both the Lancastrians and Yorkists, consequently by association being put in mortal danger from the opposing side. The title Virgin Widow is a reference to a rumour that maybe her first marriage was never consummated.
** Fact or Fiction **
The author researched most of the main characters that influenced Anne's life well, the tale being based on a skeleton of historical facts.
However, as there was little detailed factual evidence of Anne's own life to go on, there was a lot of scope for the imagination in developing the character of her heroine. Sources of information that good historical novelists like to use, if available, are the main character's diaries, letters and formal portraits. There are little personal details found of this Lady, except a few sketches and key dates like her birth and death.
** Style **
I would classify this historical fiction novel as a part action and part romantic tale.
I found that the easy flowing writing style, and the more generous than average size of the print, enabled me to read this chunky 624 page book more quickly than I initially thought.
Marriages between nobles were usually arranged to further the ambitions of the families involved. However, this did not preclude a love match for a lucky few. Also a strong commitment could develop after a marriage between strangers. The author assumes that this is what young girls dreamt of, even though they know this was not their right, or even the norm. So part of this story is written as a romance.
However, as the author is realistic about the harshness of the times, these idealistic dreams are well offset during most of the tale by ruthless politics and the realities of war.
The imagined Anne's voice narrates her story, but much dialogue makes sure that the opinions of other characters are also voiced.
Due to the violent and sexual themes, I would put this book as suitable for age 14 plus.
** Characters **
I believe the author has done a good job in developing the main characters.
What particularly struck me was how quickly the three main teenage characters grew up. The teenagers I refer to are Anne, Edward and Richard.
So as not to spoil the story for those who do not know the main historical facts, I will not say how this is portrayed. What I will tell you is that they all came for power hungry families, whose leaders would have wanted to instil their ambitions and views in the younger generations.
In their given circumstances, however, they needed to mature quickly, in order to have the wit to survive.
** The Author **
Anne O'Brien has spent most of her life in Yorkshire, where she was a history teacher. She now lives in an 18th timbered framed cottage in an area steeped in history on the Welsh/English border.
Her second career as an author started with her writing for Mills & Boon. I am not drawn to read any of these books, as I enjoy novels with more depth than I expect to get from those written to the requirements of this publisher.
Although Virgin Widow has some romantic content, this novel, published by Mira, has a lot more realism than the formulaic style that I associate with Mills & Boon romantic books.
I suspect the title was chosen so as still to appeal to her original fans, but a more apt title, in my view, would have been A Courageous Plantagenet Pawn.
Virgin Widow ends with a birth rather than a death. Perhaps it was deliberately ended at this point so as not to alienate her Mills & Boon fans who are used to a happy ending. However, I am deducting one star for this, as I would have liked Anne Neville's whole story, especially as I know that she died while still a fairly young adult.
I hope to soon read her more recent novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine (Devil's Consort). In contrast to Anne Neville, there would have been plenty of factual information for her to draw on, so I hope that it will prove to be historically accurate.
** Other Related Historical Fiction **
I especially recommend Virgin Queen to Philippa Gregory fans, who I believe would find this an enjoyable complementary read to her 3 novels about this period of history, entitled The White Queen, The Red Queen, and The Lady of Rivers.
For those who prefer the simple but effective, historically accurate, style of Jean Plaidy, there is The Red Rose of Anjou, which tells of this period in history through the eyes of Margaret of Anjou, who becomes the Queen of Henry VI. I found this one of Jean Plaidy's most engrossing books.
Read this if you think you would appreciate the 15th century tale of Anne Neville, the courageous daughter of the ruthless "Kingmaker" Earl of Warwick, which shows dominant families dealing with treachery, trickery and political back stabbing, with violence contrasting with stoical Anne's romantic hopes.
Paperback: 624 pages
Publisher: Mira (21 May 2010)