Book Review: TRAITOR’S WIFE by Susan Higginbotham

TRAITOR’S WIFE by Susan Higginbotham is the story of Eleanor de Clare, wife of Hugh le Despencer the Younger, and personal favorite to King Edward II during the latter years of his reign.


The author has done a wonderful job of creating such compelling characters. Like another reader, I stayed up until 3am because I wanted to know what was going to happen to Eleanor and Hugh!


This is an ambitious first novel, and Ms. Higginbotham set the bar high by choosing to tell the story mostly through the point of view of Eleanor de Clare, a charming but naïve young woman.


It is always difficult to deal with naïve characters, because they make for unreliable narrators. Here is a story of greed and unscrupulousness, and degrading and awful deaths of those caught on the wrong side of power, yet Eleanor’s voice tells a tale of sweet and agreeable people, of a King to whom bad things happen, but no-one really knows why, of a much-loved and much misunderstood husband.


I think that this story could have benefited from another thread of narrative – told by a cynical outsider that would have explained why people were so furious with Edward and Hugh – because it would have ratcheted up the tension in the novel. I provided my own tension, because I know the story of Edward II well, so I was able to provide my own dark counterpoint to Eleanor’s sweet narrative.


But for those readers who really don’t know this period of history, at best this novel might have been confusing, at worst, it would have lacked tension. In spite of these problems, Susan did create characters that leapt off the page, and are hard to forget. Four stars.


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