August 21, 2009

Hugh and Bess by Susan Higginbotham

After reading and loving The Traitor’s Wife, I eagerly anticipated Higginbotham’s sequel of sorts, Hugh and Bess. When it finally did arrive, I became so wrapped up in the soapy romantic drama that I dropped everything and finished it in a day. The story centers on a young Elizabeth de Montacute or Bess, the daughter of favored Earl and the much older, Hugh le Despenser, a wealthy (yet disgraced) Lord. Hugh’s grandfather and father were executed as traitors, and Hugh’s father was accused of adultery and sodomy with the former King. Hugh himself was imprisoned missing a near execution himself, but is now working hard to restore his family’s honor. Bess is understandably horrified at marriage into a family with such a reputation, and Hugh is honored by the match in theory, but he is in love with another woman. Can they find happiness in a marriage that neither sought and both are entering with reluctance?

At the heart of Hugh and Bess is a love story. Higginbotham manages to give Hugh and Bess an electric chemistry that compels throughout the historical drama. What makes the plot successful is Higginbotham’s tendency to ground the story in known facts then realistically elaborate the humanistic elements. For example, Bess begins the story at 13, and she reads and feels—13. This is a refreshing change from the tiny calculating power hungry seven-year-old cliché that dominates the historical fiction genre. Those who have read The Traitor’s Wife will be pleased as we get a few more glimpses of favorite characters. And this story takes care to fill in gaps in time, and show that story from different perspectives. You’ll want to read the Traitor’s Wife if you haven’t not because it is necessary for Hugh and Bess, but because it’s a great novel.

That said; the last few chapters seem to drag. We’ve moved on from a lot of the action, and not to spoil and plot lines, but the climatic challenges that face the couple, and the ensuing chapters read like and after thought. It was almost as if Higginbotham had fallen in love with her characters and was unwilling to let go. Also, having read The Traitor’s Wife, and other historical works of the time, I still found it hard to place some of the minor characters. It doesn’t help that the English nobility of the time only used a couple of family names repeatedly, ie, Elizabeth, Hugh, Edward, Isabella, Joan, William, etc… A little more guidance and more thorough introductions would have been helpful.

However by focusing on the romance, Higginbotham delivers a relatable historical fiction piece that transcends generations. If you (like me) just can’t get enough of these English court novels, I’m certain you’ll love Hugh and Bess.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for joining our discussion of this book!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...