Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Review: Hugh and Bess by Susan Higginbotham
When thirteen year old Elizabeth "Bess" de Montacute finds out that she has been betrothed to Hugh le Despenser, she's outraged--to put it nicely. Bess can not believe that her mother and father would wed her off to a man from such a despicable family. His father and grandfather were traitors and executed for it, not to mention Hugh's father's relationship with the once king that went beyond friendship and into something amorous. then Hugh himself was kept as the Queen's prisoner. Bess can not see herself married to a man with such a tainted past. But the King has deemed it so and no amount of pouting can change that.
Hugh le Despenser has worked for years in effort to bring his family's name back from the pits his father and grandfather left it in upon their deaths. And as a way to continue to remain in the King's good graces, he accepts the king's proposal of marrying Bess, a young girl from an upstanding family. Marriage to Bess will please the king and be a beneficial one to Hugh as well, no matter if Bess can't stand him and he's already in love with another woman.
Hugh and Bess enter into their marriage with very different mindsets. Hugh puts the woman he loves out of his life and commits himself fully to Bess, while Bess keeps her distance from Hugh whenever she can and happily basks in the fact that she's still too young to consummate her unwanted marriage. It seems the two will forever be on two separate sides of the coin, but when a betrayal that hurts more than anything brings them closer than they ever thought imaginable and tragedy threatens to ruin all they've worked for, will Hugh and Bess be able to withstand?
This really was a fantastic book and at only 271 pages, it was also a short one. Despite it's few pages, though, Hugh and Bess is packed with great story telling and two very remarkable protagonists. In the beginning of the story, Bess was very child-like, very spoiled, and very head strong. As the story progressed and time passed, the growth that Bess experienced was palpable. The changes in her character could be felt with the passing years in the book. Hugh, as described by Bess, was the "perfect, gentle Knight." He was very much a genteel figure, but his presence was strong. He was most times effortlessly patient, chivalrous, and a good fighter--everything that a Knight should be.
The story is lightly peppered with battle scenes, none of which were, to me, overly done. And as in most all historical fiction, there was tragedy. The overall story is one of two people making the most out of a marriage that they did not pick for themselves, and through that they both find a love that they didn't know existed. Though the ending was bittersweet, it left a hint of promise for all characters involved.
If it seems as though I have nothing bad to say about this book, it is because I don't. I am unable to find even one small complaint. The pace was just right, there was subtle humor laced through, the characters were endearing, and the love story was heartfelt. It is a testament to the wonderful story telling, that in such few pages, I came to feel so strongly about this book. From Beginning to end, Hugh and Bess was a highly pleasurable read. Solid A
Review based on ARC copy from Sourcebooks. You can visit Susan Higginbotham here.