Medieval Mania: Hugh and Bess: A Love Story by Susan Higginbotham

Hugh and Bess: A Love Story by Susan Higginbotham

  • Title: Hugh and Bess: A Love Story
  • Author: Susan Higginbotham
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical Fiction
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark, August 2009
  • Source: Public library ($9.99 ebook)
  • Length: 273 pages
  • Trope(s): Child Bride, Treason, Courtly Love, Reunited
  • Quick blurb: Hugh le Despenser, the son and grandson of traitors, and his teenage bride Elizabeth Montacute face court intrigue, war and plague
  • Quick review: A welcome informal tone and a great historical couple, but uneven storytelling.
  • Grade: C

“Why can’t Joan marry him? Her father was beheaded too. They would have had much more to talk about.”

Higginbotham is a new-to-me author, but I’ve had her on my wishlist for while. She  chooses some really fascinating lesser-known historical figures and settings, so I was really looking forward to this. But Higginbotham was doomed to a comparison to my other favorite historical fiction authors, particularly Philippa Gregory and Elizabeth Chadwick (reviews for both coming soon!).

Hugh and Bess was an easy read with enjoyable dialogue and some good historical detail, but it was very superficial — the storytelling was noticeably episodic, with some backstory filler between major life events.

My biggest disappointment was the lack of emotional depth and character development. Other than dealing with their significant age difference, neither Hugh nor Bess change or grow at all throughout the story — Hugh especially is presented as a saintly warrior who can do no wrong. I think that’s partly because Hugh and Bess are separated for much of the story, and it would be difficult for any author to sustain the romance throughout wars, executions, epidemics and god knows what else these two had to overcome.

I have two more by Higginbotham in my TBR and a few others are available at my library, so it’ll be interesting to see how her Margaret of Anjou, Katharine Woodville and Frances Grey measure up.

Status Updates: Read With Me Vicariously

  • 17%: This has a much lighter tone than I was expecting, and I’m enjoying the author’s “voice” as a 13-year-old bride-to-be. The minor characters are a little hard to keep track of, especially considering the similarity of their names. If I wasn’t already a little familiar with the historical figures and chain of events, I’d probably find it really confusing.
  • 30%: The time-jumping is starting to annoy me – the dual storylines aren’t parallel chronologically, and there have been several flashbacks within flashbacks.  But I am loving the unusual “voice” — informal, smarmy and often sarcastic. Definitely not the usual medieval-speak.
  • 80% : Now that the info-dumping backstory is out of the way, the pace has picked up – but there still isn’t much emotional involvement.
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