Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Traitor's Wife

The Traitor's Wife: A Novel of the Reign of Edward II by Susan Higginbotham
(iUniverse / 0-595-35959-0 / July 2005 / 492 pages / $25.95)

Susan Higginbotham's epic medieval soap opera is an engrossing tale of historical fiction surrounding the reign of King Edward II during the 1300's. This book has already been acquiring glowing reviews from many sources, and my two cents worth of opinion will hopefully add to the book's reputation. The Traitor's Wife is further proof that there are some marvelous iU authors out there, and I have proclaimed it my job to find them. This is a TV miniseries waiting to happen. Who's ready to write the screenplay?

One of my favorite fiction books of all time is Anne Rice's The Witching Hour, and strangely enough, I see many parallels between the two books, with two significant exceptions. The Witching Hour is a 1000+ page account of the fictional Mayfair Family of witches residing in New Orleans long before the devastation of Katrina. The Traitor's Wife is a lightly fictionalized account of the broadly extended royal family of England during the 1300's, centuries before the tragic ending of the reign of Princess Diana. The first difference between the two tales is that the witches flew out of Anne's imagination, but King Edward's court really did go through all those trials and tribulations. The second difference is that The Traitor's Wife is less than half as long as The Witching Hour. Most of the page count difference is the direct result of the many slowly simmering descriptions of places and events present in The Witching Hour; whereas, in contrast, The Traitor's Wife skips most of the narrative description and goes right to the conversation. Hence, The Traitor's Wife can easily be visualized as a screenplay in which the focus is totally upon the words and actions of the characters. Even a miniseries of The Witching Hour could never capture the intense depth of the Mayfairs and their control over the city of New Orleans that lasted for centuries. Most of the characters in The Traitor's Wife were married in their teens and lived relatively short lives. The Mayfair witches had spirits and vampires for companions, reflecting lifespans of an entirely different nature.

Americans have always been fascinated by both supernatural spirits that live forever and English royalty that live and die tragically. The New Orleans Garden District has always been one of my favorite places. On numerous occasions, I have visited the same streets haunted by The Mayfairs. I know there are many Americans, and I dare say that most of them are women, who have been equally as drawn to the lives of the many variations of the British royal family, culminating in the death of Diana. The story of Edward II is as appallingly shocking as anyone might want to discover, and the truth of its history adds to the reading pleasure of The Traitor's Wife. Although The Mayfairs were a matriarchal society and men ruled the kingdom in medieval England, the tale of The Traitor's Wife is told from the feminine perspective. The men do the dirty work and the women have to clean it up. The male spirit Lasher sets off an endless chain of tragic events by having sex with the female Mayfair witches, and King Edward sets the standard by having sex with another man, or two. Let the games begin....

Neither The Witching Hour nor The Traitor's Wife would ordinarily be a book I would select to read. They both look too much to me like books women would enjoy much more than men, and to some extent, this is certainly true. What makes me recommend The Traitor's Wife so strongly is how much I did like it, in spite of the fact that I am a lot more fascinated by Dracula than Diana. Of course I have read nearly all of Anne Rice's books (The Witching Hour twice). Susan Higginbotham has written only one book, and now Eleanor le Despenser resides on my bookshelf only inches away from the Mayfair witches. What higher recommendation can I offer?

See Also: Interview with Susan Higginbotham

1 comment:

Susan Higginbotham said...

Thanks, Tabitha, for the kind review! Much appreciated.