Samantha Wilcoxson is a first generation American with British roots. She is passionate about reading, writing, and history, especially the Plantagenet and Tudor dynasties. Her novel, Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York has been recognised as a Historical Novel Society Editor's Choice. The Plantagenet Embers series continues with Faithful Traitor: The Story of Margaret Pole and will conclude with Queen of Martyrs: The Story of Mary I in 2017.
Samantha has also published two middle grade novels, No Such Thing as Perfect and Over the Deep: A Titanic Adventure.
When not reading or writing, Samantha enjoys traveling and spending time at the lake with her husband and three children. You can connect with Samantha on her blog, Twitter, Goodreads, Booklikes, and Amazon.
There are two things I must say straight away: the first is that I know Samantha's writing through her blog, and through her contributions to EHFA (English Historical Fiction Authors) and I know that her research, and her deep knowledge of the period, are excellent. I don't need to question the 'historical' content because I know it to be sound. Thus, without giving away any spoilers, I can assert that any suppositions she makes are grounded firmly in historical certainties, and the novelist is always at liberty to fill in gaps, if done plausibly.
Secondly, I have to say that what drew me very strongly to this book was its novelty factor, the very subject matter itself. They must be out there, but I am not aware of any books about this period which concentrate on that somewhat shadowy figure Elizabeth of York, whom I have always been taught was the woman who brought the warring factions together, who legitimised the claims of the Yorkists and the Lancastrians. Beyond that, I didn't know much about her and now I feel that I do.
In this book, inevitably, we begin with the latter stages of the Wars of the Roses, but the author very quickly, and sensibly, moves on. She gives us just enough background information, without going over ground which is extremely well-trodden already. Briskly, she scoops us into Elizabeth's life, and tells the story very much from her point of view, and as such, she is a refreshing witness to events which can sometimes feel over-familiar. I was intrigued to know what Elizabeth might have thought about her role as 'peace-weaver'.
There are many references to God, and I found that refreshing, too. Often, novelists forget how strong was the faith of those living through such times, how central to their lives their religion was. The harsh realities of life at this time are also pointed out and we as readers are not shielded from this, nor should we be.
I particularly liked the way the author gives a version of events which I had never thought of and yet, when considered, seem obvious: the fact that Elizabeth sees Plantagenet features in her daughter, and in her son, the future Henry VIII; that her son Arthur behaves like one born to be king, in a way that Henry VII doesn't. And, most telling of all, that the pretender Perkin Warbeck would have threatened her own son's claims to the throne. I enjoyed the theory about what made Warbeck so convincing - the idea that his success, as far as it went, owed as much to his personal qualities as his bloodline. This idea clearly comes from an author who has studied what happened and thought about the possible realities, based on human nature.
There are not many secondary characters, but the author I think is deliberately keeping her cast small, never losing sight of the story she is telling, and really trying to hold Elizabeth of York under a microscope. It is easy, perhaps, to forget that Elizabeth lived on after her marriage, the point at which the focus usually shifts completely to the Tudors.
I struggled a little with the 'Americanisms' from time to time, but it is neither the author's fault nor mine that we hail from different sides of the Atlantic.
Ultimately for me, reviewing a book boils down to two things. Did it start well enough for me to continue reading, and did it end well enough for me to recommend it to others? Happily, I can answer yes to both these questions!
After reading the book, I put a couple of questions to Samantha:
How did the idea for the book come about: what was it that drew you to tell Elizabeth's story?
SW: I had decided that I was ready to take on historical fiction, not just something for younger readers but the kind of book that I would want to read. When I thought about the era that I knew the most about, the Wars of the Roses, I knew that I would have to be creative if I were going to do something that would be unique. It struck me that Elizabeth of York had connections to all the key players but few writers ever focused on her. As soon as she came into my mind, the story started writing itself. I had great appreciation for this woman who devoted herself to peace and raising her family rather than fighting for her own power. Strong women like Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret of Anjou tend to be popular figures, but I was drawn to Elizabeth of York's quiet strength.
Once readers have enjoyed this, what can they expect from the next book?
The final book of the trilogy, Queen of Martyrs, is due out in spring 2017. It will carry on with Queen Mary's story, including her attempt at counter-reformation with the help of Margaret's son, Cardinal Reginald Pole.