Cecily by Annie Garthwaite

‘It is no easy thing, to watch a woman burn.’

This novel opens on 30 May 1431, with Cecily watching the execution of Joan of Arc in Rouen, France. Cecily is sixteen years of age, the wife of Richard, Duke of York, heir to the English throne and son of a traitor. His position is precarious, subject to the whims of Henry VI and those who advise him.

In this novel, Ms Garthwaite covers Cecily’s story between 1431 and 1461, when her son Edward defeated his enemies at a battle in Yorkshire (thereby becoming Edward IV). It is a fascinating story, told from the perspective of a noble woman, covering the early part of the period we know as the Wars of the Roses. The history is readily available for those who are unfamiliar with this period but is most often recounted either from the perspective of powerful men, or of fictional characters.

Cecily Neville (3 May 1415 – 31 May 1495) was an English noblewoman, the wife of Richard, Duke of York (1411–1460), and the mother of two kings of England, Edward IV and Richard III. Ms Garthwaite brings Cecily to life in this novel: her family history, her involvement in politics, and the joys and heartbreak she experienced associated with childbirth.

‘When it is impossible to do a thing, you must simply find a way to make it appear to be done.’

While I do not think you need to know the history to follow this novel, it does help to understand the intrigues of the period and the (at times precarious) roles of Cecily and her husband. This is a well-written historical fiction which captured my attention and held it from beginning to end.

I would recommend this novel to anyone interested in historical fiction set in the fifteenth century.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith