Review: The Queen's Rival by Anne O'Brien

I'm delighted to share my review of The Queen's Rival by Anne O'Brien. The story is from Cecily, Countess of York's personal view on the often horrific events that unfolded during the so-called Wars of the Roses. 

My thanks to the author and The Coffee Pot Book Club for a copy.

The Queen's Rival

Anne O'Brien

Historical Fiction

Readers familiar with the era now known as the War of the Roses will love this novel, I believe. Told to a large extent in sequences of letters sent by – and to – Cecily, Duchess of York, The Queen's Rival is a very intimate insight into the intrigues, the politics, and the dirty tricks both sides used to gain the crown. 

But first, who was the leading lady? Cecily of York is wife to Richard, Duke of York, claimant to the throne of England through his family line dating back to King Edward III. She is also the mother to two future kings, Edward IV and Richard III (Duke of Gloucester), the Dukes of Clarence and Rutland, and several daughters. Other children did not survive infancy. A remarkable lady who used her influence and standing to gain support for their cause.

With King Henry VI dissolving into confused madness (from a surprisingly early age onwards), the country is ruled by Queen Marguerite of Anjou, and an assortment of carefully selected barons who remain staunchly by her side. Richard, Duke of York was sidelined in his position of power by this group, and is now seeking to take power. But it soon goes awry...

In Cecily's letters to her sisters, children, magnates and the queen we get a real glimpse of a lady of some influence. She knows her station in life, and soon – after initial reluctance – agrees with her husband's plans to take the throne for himself. Her tone changes as she demands, orders, and begs, where appropriate. 

Accompanying the letters flying about across England, and often into France and Burgundy (those poor messengers!), is England's Chronicle, which describes the deeds of the times. This resembles, at times, the articles from a certain Lady Whistledown in the bestselling Regency series, Bridgerton. 

Ms O'Brien's narrative is very different to other novels I've read on the subject of the Wars of the Roses. It's very personal, and we get a real sense to be in the midst of all the intrigues. 

In Cecily's letters, she paints a vivid picture of a woman who is often torn in her feelings, but who never forgets the ultimate goal – a York king on the throne. We applaud her when she tells her sisters to mind their own business, we feel for her breaking heart when she hears yet more news of deaths in battle – her husband and young son Edmund, Duke of Rutland – then later of the execution of Clarence after her plea with Edward for clemency. We rage with her when Clarence and the scheming Earl of Warwick, her nephew, accuse her of having cheated on her husband and given birth to an illegitimate son (the purpose of which will be clear in the story) or when Edward marries not a foreign princess but a widow with no real name to her. And we rejoice with her when she receives good news – her sons are safe, and when Edward is king. Her likes and dislikes are clearly defined. 

The chronicle adds a general tone to the narrative, but as it reminded me of Lady Whistledown's musings, I felt a little catapulted out of the 15th century. But that was the only minor issue I found.

The Queen's Rival is as gripping as it is shocking in its content as it reveals the plots and the dangers faced by Cecily's family. It can't have been easy, and Ms O'Brien brought the redoubtable duchess wonderfully to life with a real sense of duty, of ambition, and of love and loss.

The ending is quite sudden, for those who are familiar with the history of the Wars of the Roses, and I did feel a little cheated at first. But in hindsight, it is a clever ploy by the author. She never doubts Cecily's loyalty to the entitlement of the House of York, and nor do we.

A very personal and captivating read that keeps you thinking about Cecily and everything she had to cope with. The Queen's Rival is a story of a remarkable lady in very volatile times. A highly recommended read.



England, 1459. 

One family united by blood. Torn apart by war…

The Wars of the Roses storm through the country, and Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, plots to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne.

But when the Yorkists are defeated at the battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandon her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.

Stripped of her lands and imprisoned in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit. One that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King Edward IV.

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About the Author:

Anne O’Brien

Sunday Times Bestselling author Anne O’Brien was born in West Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history.

Today she has sold over 700,000 copies of her books medieval history novels in the UK and internationally. She lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire. The area provides endless inspiration for her novels which breathe life into the forgotten women of medieval history.

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  1. I am so glad you enjoyed The Queen's Rival.
    Thank you so much for hosting today's blog tour stop!


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