Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hugh and Bess: A Love Story by Susan Higginbotham

"A delightful novel full of chivalry, romance, and real-life terrors."
Historical Novels Review

Forced to marry Hugh le Despenser, the son and grandson of disgraced traitors, Bess de Montacute, just 13 years old, is appalled at his less-than-desirable past. Meanwhile, Hugh must give up the woman he really loves in order to marry the reluctant Bess. Far apart in age and haunted by the past, can Hugh and Bess somehow make their marriage work?

Just as walls break down and love begins to grow, the merciless plague endangers all whom the couple holds dear, threatening the life and love they have built.

Award-winning author Susan Higginbotham's impeccable research will delight avid historical fiction readers, and her enchanting characters will surely capture every reader's heart. Fans of her first novel, The Traitor's Wife, will be thrilled to find that this story follows the next generation of the Despenser family.

Marg's thoughts:

I am sure that I am not the only reader around who has authors that they have been meaning to read for a while but it just hasn't happened. For me, Susan Higginbotham is one of those authors. I can not tell you how long I had Susan's first book sitting on my nightstand unread, until I finally decided to clear off the nightand and reshelve the pile that was there. The big question for me now is not so much why, because I know that it is because I kept on having other books get in the way, but rather how can I reorganise my reading calendar so that I can now read The Traitor's Wife sooner rather than later?

When young Bess de Montacute finds out she is to be married again, she is not happy. At fourteen she is already a widow, having been married to a young boy who died before they truly began married life. She doesn't want to be a wife again especially to Hugh le Despenser. Not only is he significantly older than her, but he also comes from a line of le Despenser men who have been found to be traitors in the past and therefore his family doesn't have the best name. The current Hugh le Despenser is however loyal through and through to the current king.

It's fair to say that Hugh is also not overly thrilled when the King suggests this match but given how hard he has worked at trying to redeem the family name he decides to go ahead with the betrothal, even though it means giving up the woman that he loves - a woman who would not be a suitable wife for a man of his stature.

Hugh and Bess struggle through their early days of married life, feeling their way through a veritable minefield of emotions, not least of all resentment and loneliness, but over time they come to find a bond of love much stronger than either could have imagined possible.

One of the highlights of this novel for me was the dialogue between the characters, especially between Bess and her friends - relaxed and almost gossipy, but above all dialogue that feels like it would really happy between young girls such as those featured in the book. I found it interesting to contrast the fates of two young girls who had very different experiences of arranged marriages. I was also impressed with the way that Higginbotham chose to end this book. Given the historical facts, it could have been possible to end the book much earlier, and much more abruptly than she did, and I appreciated the extra few pages that sets up a very hopeful ending.

If you want to read accessible historical fiction or perhaps a lovely romantic novel with a historical setting, then this is certainly a book to pick up and enjoy

Now I am off to find out which bookshelf The Traitor's Wife is on.

Thanks to Sourcebooks for sending me a review copy of this book.

Kailana's thoughts:

Fiction or non-fiction? Genre? Historical Fiction.

What led you to pick up this book? Received a review copy, but have been meaning to read this book for a while.

Summarize the plot, but don’t give away the ending! See above...

What did you like most about the book? I think the thing that really struck me about this novel was that even though it was rather short page-wise, I found myself becoming very drawn to the characters. Even though I roughly knew what was going to happen, when it actually happened I felt how I was supposed to about the events as they played out. Susan writes characters that I could easily relate to. I wanted more when the book was done, but obviously she was limited by the facts and could only tell the story that we think actually happened. I really enjoyed the book overall.

What did you like least? I didn't have any major problems with this book. I found it readable and enjoyed the story overall. I think it struck me as young adultish and I wouldn't mind a bit more adult, but considering that the book starts when Bess was rather young it worked for the book. So, really, I don't have anything overly bad to complain about.

Have you read any other books by this author? What did you think of those books? Nope. I plan to read her other book, though. I have owned it for a while, but haven't had a chance to read it.

What did you think of the main character? I really liked Hugh. He had a rough life, but he grew into his character well. Was he perfect? Of course not. He tried to be the best person he could be, though, and I found myself really liking him. Susan wrote him well, too, so that helped. Bess, on the other hand, got on my nerves once in a while. She was okay once she grew up a bit and became more matured, but in the beginning I didn't think I was going to like her. She was acting her age, though, so I suppose it is not really any ones fault. By the end of the book I liked her. I suppose that is the important thing. I really felt for both Hugh and Bess.

What about the ending? The ending is not really anything to do with the author. She was limited to what happened in real life, so what can I complain about. I think that she chose a good time in Bess' life to end it, though. Anymore than that would've been taking away from the overall story. The historical notes helped answer any questions that you might have, but they were not things that she needed to cover in the novel. It was the story of Hugh and Bess, which is what is covered.

I recommend this book! I am determined to read her other book now.

Marg's review originally posted at Reading Adventures as part of the Hugh and Bess blog tour.


  1. I've got The Traitor's Wife sitting to be read also but won't get to it for a while yet. Hopefully you will and I'll read your review and then I'll have to read it. Good plan? LOL

    I loved the way it ended as well! Really well done novel!

  2. I read the Traitors Wife and enjoyed it.
    Great review! Thsi book sounds great.

  3. I so agree with what you said about wanting to read a certain author...I don't have this one but am planning on reading it for sure. Thanks for the review and interview- great idea to post 2 perspectives. Thanks:)

  4. Another good review for Susan!! She is definitely on my to be read list, hopefully sooner rather than later!

  5. Both wonderful reviews! This is another author on my TBR that I haven't experienced yet. It sounds like I am in for a treat.