Review: The Traitor's Wife

The Traitor's Wife, by Susan Higginbotham

Those of you who hang out around here know picky A Reader's Respite is about historical fiction.

If you don't regularly read our ranting and ravings, we'll get you caught up:

A Reader's Respite is very picky about historical fiction.

We like our historical fiction very, very well-researched. Don't mess with known history or rearrange timelines just to fit a plot. Don't over-modernize the dialogue. And above all, do NOT dumb it down just to appeal to vapid larger audience.

Well we are here to shout it from the rooftops that author Susan Higginbotham does none of the above. And she does is very, very well.

The Traitor's Wife recounts the reign of England's King Edward II, as seen through the eyes of Eleanor de Clare, the King's favorite niece and wife of Hugh le Despenser. Hugh, for those not entirely familiar with this fascinating period of England's history, was the notorious chief adviser and lover of Edward II.

Edward II

Now this is where it gets interesting. Hugh le Despenser is arguably one of the most hated figures in British history. The BBC History Poll of historians in 2006 ranked him as the Worst Briton that lived in the 14th century. (For comparison, Jack the Ripper was voted the worst Briton of the 19th century.) And yet Higginbotham has mangaged to make him, more or less, the hero of this novel.

And it works.

How? Higginbotham doesn't ignore Despenser's flaws (although one alleged incident of the physical torture of a woman is noticably absent), but instead views him through his adoring wife's eyes, who sees his tempered flaws but also his kinder, gentler side.

Love is blind, eh?

But few, if any, characters in The Traitor's Wife are painted as strictly saints or sinners. Higginbotham is far too talented an author to fall for the ol' good-guy versus bad-guy thing. Each meticulously researched character is presented with all of their human flaws and the reader can draw their own conclusions.

The story follows the soap opera-esque British history that occurs in Eleanor's lifetime, including the deposition and alleged murder of Edward II by his erstwhile Queen, Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer, the execution of Hugh le Despenser, as well as Eleanor's own imprisonment in the Tower.

For those interested in 14th century British and Scottish history, there is a rich cast of characters guaranteed to satisfy the most discerning amatuer historian amongst us (William Wallace of Braveheart fame even merits a mention).

If you enjoy thorough, yet highly entertaining historical fiction, get ye this book. You'll be sucked into the story by page 2 and it will rivet your attention to the very last page.

Oh, and if you'd like to learn more about author Susan Higginbotham, just visit her blog, Medieval Woman. And if Hugh le Despenser catches your fancy, don't miss the fabulous blog Lady Despenser's Scribery!

Title: The Traitor's Wife
Author: Susan Higginbotham
ISBN-13: 978-1402217876
512 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Date: April 1, 2009

Places to find more opinions:

Carla Nayland's Blog
Passages to the Past (plus an interview!)
Cheryl's Booknook
Lynne's Litle Corner of the World
Historical Boys (interview with Susan)


  1. I'm reviewing this one next week! I'm just about to start it and I'm thrilled that you already gave it a great review. =)

  2. So that was you I heard hollering about Susan Higginbotham. I haven't read very much historical fiction, but I have enjoyed what I read. I'm going to add some of her books to my wish list.

  3. Glad you enjoyed it Michele and congrats to Susan for the new release. When is the next one coming out?????

  4. Glad you liked it Michele. I'm starting it to day and I'm anxious to get to it. I just love the cover too-seems so rich.

  5. Great review love! This is one of my favs this year - such an awesome read!

    I have an interview with Susan posted today and should have her review posted Wednesday. I hope she really takes off and gains a wider audience!

  6. Oh this sounds like a great book Michele...thanks for the review!

  7. I've been told I should read Higginbotham and now I ***know*** I should. I loves British HF.

  8. I've read only good things about this one. I must check it out. Thanks for the review.

  9. Have not heard of Higginbotham until now. I'll have to check this one out, especially since I'm descended from Eleanor de Clare (and her second husband). Interesting review!

  10. How could I not heard of Hugh before? This sounds fabulous. It's going straight to my wish list. Excellent review.

  11. I am so glad to see a good review for this book! One of these days I will read it myself, and in the meantime I am happy to see success coming Susan's way. She is definitely one of the good guys!

  12. I have just posted a review of it as well. I love yours and I agree, Ms. Higginbotham did a wonderful job in both recounting the history and writing an engaging novel. Quite a feast I must say.

  13. I like my historical fiction just this way. I'm so glad we have you to review. I am getting quite a list going here...

  14. Loved your review, heard lots of good things about The Traitor's Wife

  15. I know next to nothing about King Edward II's reign but this sounds like an interesting story. Glad you weren't disappointed!

  16. Just posted my review of this one, I loved it too.

    I find it so interesting that those who reach for great power never seem to learn that their actions engender great hatred. Three examples in this story alone, one after the other pulled down and destroyed.

    It is great fodder for the historical novelist, though. Wonder how the historical figures would feel to know that they were entertaining the masses these days...


  17. I really hope the library gets this one soon... I haven't seen it in bookstores yet. Oh, maybe I'll pick this one for my reading group selection!

  18. I'll be posting my review of this book on Friday. I'm almost finished with it, and so far I love it. I don't know much about this period in English history, so I'm curious about what parts of the story are fact and what parts are embellished. Glad you liked the book.

    Diary of an Eccentric

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