Queen of the North by Anne O’Brien
Date read: 21st May 2018 – 25th May 2018
Page count: 512
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format: Kindle Edition (arc from NetGalley)
I received this arc from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
The Queen of the North is just as interesting, awe-inspiring and clever as I anticipated it to be. Historical fiction is always hit and miss – you get the gems, and you get the poorly written, badly executed trolls that sit under the bridge. This is a gem. The writing was descriptive, but not dull, the relationships were fleshed out, and real, and the characters felt like they were sitting next to me as I was reading.
Elizabeth Mortimer is the focus of this novel – and in 1399, when it begins, she is married to Harry Hotspur, a northern nobleman. This is a period of history I love, the early 1400s to 1500s, so I was excited to learn more about this particular era.
In 1399, the country is run by Richard II, a deeply unpopular King, and eldest grandchild of Edward III. However, all suddenly changes with the arrival of Henry of Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV, and the sudden change of allegiance of the northern families from Richard to Henry. However, Elizabeth Mortimer is a deeply political woman, who strives to see her own family in sole possession of power and cannot be content with this new King, who she sees as usurping the role of her nephew, Edmund.
Books about medieval women also fascinate me, and Elizabeth Mortimer is no exception. Not only is she formidable, but Anne O’Brien’s characterisation of her allows for a lot of humour and warmth that might otherwise be lost in a book that deals with such dark events.
History isn’t pretty, and this book doesn’t sugarcoat that fact, but that’s what I look for in historical fiction. Elizabeth is quite the interesting woman – seen most strongly in her belief that her nephew is the rightful heir to the throne, and how she willingly sends her beloved husband to his death on the battlefield for it.
Several of the events described in this novel happened in places quite local to me, which is always enjoyable to read about, such as Hotspur’s death at Shrewsbury, and the Mortimer family home at Ludlow. Maybe not something everyone can relate to, but the way these places are depicted and described makes them feel very close to home.
It is hard to write reviews for historical fiction without giving too much of the plot away, mostly because it’s history, and everything is spoiled already! But one of the good things about going into a novel not knowing the context around it is that you are actually surprised by events – something that was lacking for me in Stormbird. And The Queen of the North did manage to surprise me, but also managed to fill me in with all I needed to know without reading too much like a full on history textbook.
Overall, I gave this book five out of five stars, and I would really recommend it to anyone who is just getting into historical fiction. It’s a little more left field than your usual Philippa Gregory The Other Boleyn Girl and talks about women more unknown to history. But of course, if you’re a long time veteran, I recommend it to you too. But with an easy writing style, interesting characters and an engaging premise, this is a great place to start.