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Review of Hugh and Bess by Susan Higginbotham

Hugh and Bess - Susan Higginbotham - Medieval England - Plantagenet England - Edward III - Medieval History - Middle Ages History - Hugh le Despenser - Hundred Years War - Black Death - Historical Fiction NovellHugh and Bess by Susan Higginbotham
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark (August 1, 2009)
ISBN-10: 1402215274

He was the son of a traitor. The prisoner of a queen. The lover of two women. The soldier of a king. And the target of something greater than all of these. He was Hugh le Despenser, the son and grandson of executed traitors and King Edward II’s closest allies, men of a once powerful house that were brought to ruin by Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer.

Several years have passed since the events of Higginbotham’s last novel, The Traitor’s Wife. A sequel of sorts, Hugh and Bess picks up with the life of Hugh le Despenser after his release from captivity. Roger Mortimer (the usurper) is dead, hanged at Tyburn on the 29th of November 1330, and the crown is once again in the hands of the Plantagenet family under Edward III. Hugh desires to restore his family’s name and his position in court, and so he asks for permission to marry the daughter of William de Montacute, Elizabeth (more affectionately known as Bess). The marriage will benefit his social standing and redeem his reputation among the barons. There are only two issues with the marriage: one, Hugh truly loves Emma, a woman of a slightly lower social class; and two, Bess doesn’t want to marry into one of the most hated families in all of England.

In time, their affections grow for one another, though the process is much slower for Bess than for Hugh. Even though Hugh must sever his ties with Emma, who he has loved for many years, he learns to adore Bess and treats her with great kindness and gentility and honor. In his efforts to overcome his family’s past, Hugh strives to separate himself from his father’s image. Hugh, unlike his father, shows humility and selflessness and loyalty — to his country as well as his wife — though his faithfulness is tested when Emma moves into their house to serve as one of Bess’ attendants, and Emma’s presence rekindles old feelings between her and Hugh.

Bess’ attitude toward Hugh significantly changes when he goes off to fight for Edward III’s army in France. In his absence, Bess begins to realize what she truly has in Hugh, and so she — along with some other wives — travels to Calais to meet up with her husband.

Higginbotham crafts a near perfect story with Hugh and Bess. Her dialogue is engaging, her historical details are well-researched, the pacing is fluid and quick — you can easily finish this novel in two or three days — and lastly, the characters are well-imagined based on the history of these two families admist the backdrop of the Hundred Years War and the Black Death. The author has a good hold on her characters with Hugh and Bess and Emma, while the other characters (Edward III, Joan of Kent, Bess’ parents and siblings) serve more as background characters and have little bearing on the overall story. At only 271 pages, Higginbotham could have probably afforded to lengthen the novel in order to deepen the understanding and growth of the relationships of her main characters.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

*A special thanks to Sourcebooks for asking me to read and review Hugh and Bess by Susan Higginbotham and participate in the blog tour. Other sites providing reviews are as follows:

Musings of a Bibliophile (7/28)
Passages to the Past (8/1)
My Friend Amy (8/1)
Reading Adventures (8/2)
Jennifer’s Random Musings (8/2)
Peeking Between the Pages (8/3)
Historical (8/3)
Grace’s Book Blog (8/4)
Historical Tapestry (8/5)
Mrs. Magoo Reads (8/5)
Historical Fiction (8/6)
Jenn’s Bookshelf (8/6)
The Tome Traveller’s Weblog (8/7) (8/8)
Book Addiction (8/9)
Medieval Bookworm (8/11)
Carla Nayland (8/11)
The Literate Housewife Review (8/12)
Diary of an Eccentric (8/13)
Bookfoolery and Babble (8/14)

13 thoughts on “Review of Hugh and Bess by Susan Higginbotham”

  1. Thanks, Susan, for writing such a lovely novel. I truly enjoyed it and would certainly recommend it to anyone. You have an indelible gift for crafting a story full of engaging dialogue and heartfelt characters.

    What project are you working on next?

  2. I did read the Traitor’s Wife. I posted my review a few months ago, if you’d like to read it:

    I did like Hugh and Bess better though. I felt more involved with the characters in Hugh and Bess than I did the Traitors Wife. From a history standpoint, though, I thought the Traitor’s Wife was more engaging, as you learned a lot about the reign of Edward II, and that was very interesting.

  3. Susan Higginbotham

    Steven, my forthcoming novel is set during the Wars of the Roses and is narrated by Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, and his wife, Katherine Woodville (the youngest sister of Elizabeth Woodville). It should be out in spring of 2010 (and it’s longish!). I just started my fourth one, which is about Margaret of Anjou–have to wait and see if the publisher’s interested, though!

  4. Great review. I liked both Traitor’s Wife and Hugh and Bess. Hugh and Bess is a much less complicated story than Traitor’s Wife; I thought it was just about the right length.

  5. Thanks Carla and Alianore. I agree, Carla, that Hugh and Bess was much less complicated. I would have enjoyed it even if it kept going for another 50 or 100 pages. Sad to see it end. I burned through the book in a matter of days.

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