Lady of the Roses: A Novel of the Roses
by Sandra Worth

Berkley, 2008. ISBN 978-0-425-21914-0.
Reviewed by Laura Strathman Hulka
Posted on 09/15/2008

Fiction: Historical

Lady of the Roses exposes the reader to a lesser-known story of the devastating war between the Lancasters and the Yorks in Fifteenth century England. The engrossing love story between the Lancastrian Isobel and Yorkist Sir John Neville is one with which even the modern reader can identify.

The young Isobel is a ward of the court of Queen Marguerite, the French wife of Henry the Sixth. Henry, who had more interest in religion and scholarship than in military matters, was not a successful king. He had sovereignty from infancy and his decisions had been proscribed by regents. When he married Margaret, (Marguerite being the French spelling) his mental condition was already unstable and by the time of this story, he was considered mad, and the Queen was in control of crown and country. Isobel has caught glimpses of John Neville on her way to court, and from the very beginning was so deeply enamored of him that she would have no other. Neville was a Yorkist leader in the Wars of the Roses, best-known for eradicating Lancastrian opposition in the north of England during the early days of the reign of Edward IV of England.

The details of royalty and the royal lineage are difficult to comprehend, so it was with relief that this reviewer saw the genealogical charts at the beginning of the book. The Houses of York, Lancaster and Neville are set out on three pages, making the lineage easier to understand. Despite the usual betrayals and flip-flopping from one side to the other, if you can get a grasp of who was on which side, you will find this book completely understandable.

Not merely an historical novel, Lady of the Roses contains beautiful presentations of the characters and their tumultuous times. The dialog is completely believable. Despite the complications of the ever-changing royal titles, the reader gets to the important aspects right from the first page. Much like the classic Romeo and Juliet, this young couple was from two different warring factions. Fortunate enough to win the fickle Queen's blessing, they married and became one of the world's least known love stories. They had seven children, six of whom lived beyond infancy. Their youngest daughter Lucy was the matriarch of another famous line of descendants that included Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

Throughout the vicissitudes of the turbulent times, Isobel and John remain true to one another and to their dream of a peaceful England. They continue to appreciate and understand one another through long separations, including at least two imprisonments for John. Despite Isobel's family's militant behavior, (her uncle went down in history as "the butcher of England") Isobel remains a strong and self-reliant woman. Her strength of character and deep abiding love for her husband enable her to support him in all the travails of their lives. Sandra Worth tells their story in such a way as to not only draw more readers to her War of the Roses novels, but also encourage them to seek out more information about this relatively unknown couple.

Sandra Worth holds a B.A. in Economics and Political Science from the University of Toronto. She has won ten awards for her Rose of York trilogy and is a frequent lecturer on the War of the Roses. Visit her website.

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