The White Queen of Middleham: Sprigs of Broom 1 by Lesley J Nickell

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The White Queen of Middleham: Sprigs of Broom 1 by Lesley J Nickell

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: An interesting slant on the War of the Roses written totally from the viewpoint of Anne Neville, daughter of 'Kingmaker' Warwick and eventual wife of Richard III. You may not agree with all the interpretation but we come away with a better impression of someone history's minimised to pawn status. Tricia Callow popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us about her sister Lesley.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: August 2014
Publisher: Mereo Books
ISBN: 978-1861512086

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Anne Neville, as youngest daughter of 'Kingmaker' Richard Earl of Warwick, grows up with all the advantages of 15th century aristocracy. Unfortunately Anne is also female so her life is used to expedite her father's plans. The dreams and innocent affections of the delicate child are dashed as she faces exile and a loveless marriage to the son of domineering Margaret of Anjou. It doesn't get better straight after that either as virtual imprisonment and then slavery follow his death. While England is tossed and turned by the houses of York and Lancaster, all Anne wants is the peaceful solitude of holy orders. That may be what she wants, but her God still has other ideas…

The White Queen of Middleham was initially published in 1978 as The White Queen, receiving just recognition when it was awarded runner-up in the very first Georgette Heyer Historical Novel Award. Unfortunately author Lesley J Nickell passed away in 2013 but Lesley's sister, brother-in-law and editor (Tricia and Geoff Callow and Rosalind Winter, respectively) have decided it's time for Lesley's legacy to be reissued for a new audience who missed out on Lesley's carefully considered work the first time, me included. A good decision? Yes, I rather think it is.

This is a novel in which Lesley fully immerses us in Anne Neville. We go where she goes, see/hear/understand only what she does and, in doing so, come away knowing more about her as a person. Also, as with most novels of this ilk, there's a bit of hist fict licence going on.

As Lesley herself said Anne's life isn't well documented except as an adjunct to other people's schemes and actions. Therefore the inner monologue and thoughts of Anne are as much supposition as some of her reactions to events, but as we see from the carefully compiled density of the text (in print closeness, definitely not in lack of conveyed understanding) this is supposition based on much research and thought. Besides which, historical license hasn't done authors like Hilary Mantel any harm!

Indeed as Hilary provides us with a revisionist Cromwell, so Lesley gives us a Kingmaker who is also a daddy (but we can see where the love ends and manoeuvring begins). Then there's Richard III...

Richard is kind, caring and his back problem is muscle knotting; a diagnosis that would enable him to do everything he is on record as having done. Rosalind did consider amending the latter now we know it's scoliosis, a diagnosis too recent to have been available to Lesley. In the end Rosalind decided to leave it as Lesley intended. Let's face it, Anne wouldn’t know the diagnosis either.

Lesley has been consistent in Anne's viewpoint. Anne's understanding and knowledge fit in with her age at each stage. While she's a (very sickly) child, Warwick is a father who comes and goes she knows not where or for what, so we aren't told either. Anne's world is her rooms, the ladies designated to care for her (her mother's always busy elsewhere) and an older sister who teases like all elder sisters do. (I'm an elder sister!)

As the child grows and understands more, our understanding also broadens and we see a child - then adolescent - who is more obviously pushed around to fulfil her father's plotting. Lesley avoids any temptation to make her a sassy woman like her domineering mother in law, Margaret of Anjou. (Oooh she gave our girl a rough time!) However this lifetime of compliance is occasionally contrasted with moments of exploding inner fire once Anne's married to the King of England.

Despite not getting out onto many battlefields, Anne is given some wonderfully dramatic set pieces by Lesley. A great example would be the nunnery scene when Anne and the aforementioned Margaret are told of the death of Edward, Prince of Wales in 1471. The following events vividly depict not only the gulf between the two women but the gulf between their feelings for a husband/son who wasn't the ideal life-partner. Mind you, once he's gone, life gets an awful lot worse for the lass until… (I won't spoil it but that's a lovely scene too!)

What you think of The White Queen of Middleham depends on what you want from a hist-fict novel. If you only enjoy the full panoramic picture of an Iggulden or a Cornwell then you may be disappointed. However, if you want to end with a deeper impression of one of history's side-lined women than before you started, Lesley J Nickell has achieved this. Iggulden and Cornwell will always be there as companion pieces, but as great as they are (and I love them both), their breadth provides the outline to history whereas Lesley takes an aspect and colours it in and, as this is the first of a trilogy, there's more to come.

Further Reading: If you would like to read more of the history that was happening around Anne Neville at the time, we recommend Wars of the Roses: Stormbird (Wars of the Roses 1) by Conn Iggulden for general Wars of the Roses background, Virgin Widow by Anne O'Brien taking Anne's family from their dash to Calais and Succession by Livi Michael giving us the story of Anne's first mother in law, the force of nature Margaret of Anjou.

You can read more about Lesley J Nickell here.

Bookinterviews.jpg Tricia Callow, sister of Lesley J Nickell was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.

Buy The White Queen of Middleham: Sprigs of Broom 1 by Lesley J Nickell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The White Queen of Middleham: Sprigs of Broom 1 by Lesley J Nickell at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The White Queen of Middleham: Sprigs of Broom 1 by Lesley J Nickell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The White Queen of Middleham: Sprigs of Broom 1 by Lesley J Nickell at Amazon.com.


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