Summary: A new twist on an old tale. To the Tower Born follows best friends Nell Caxton, daughter of Will Caxton the 'man who brought books to England', and Bessie, daughter of King Edward IV and later wife of Henry VII. In alternating chapters the girls tell the tale of Bessie's brothers, Edward and Richard "Dickon", and the circumstances that surrounded their disappearance from the Tower of London shortly after King Edward IV death. Offering a different version than most authors, Maxwell lets her characters tell a story that leaves the reader second guessing what they thought they knew about Richard III, Henry VII, Elizabeth Woodville, and Margaret Beaufort.
My thoughts: I have to start by saying that I could not put this book down. I read the entire thing, 301 pages, in 12 hours. I took a few meal breaks, but I did it in a day! I have read what I consider a lot of historical fiction related to the Tudors, but I recently became interested in books about King Richard III. I think I enjoyed them so much because I now have a better understanding of how the Tudor Dynasty was able to develop. This book follows Bessie before she became Henry the Sevenths wife and gives insight on how she helped merge the Yorkists and Lancastrian Houses.
First, although I have read quite a bit of historical fiction, it can sometimes be very difficult to remember who's who since it appears that Richard, Edward, Henry, Harry, Elizabeth, Mary, Margaret, Anthony, and so on, were VERY popular names back than. I found it helpful to create a "family tree" of sorts to help me map out the characters and their connections.
click on image to make it bigger
The above chart is just for family members and does not include the other main character in the book, Nell Caxton, who is best friends with Bessie. I also forgot to put in there that Margaret Beaufort was formally known as Lady Stanley, married of course to Lord Stanley who served King Edward the Fourth. Once I had mapped out the characters it was much easier to follow. This may not be the best book to start with if you are new to the historical fiction genre. (Side Note: If you are new to historical fiction and are interested in the Tudors, I'd start with The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory)
The story opens with Nell Caxton, daughter to the first English Publisher William Caxton, getting a divorce. This is never mentioned again in the story and seems ill-fitted once you finish the book. Nell then visits her friend, "Bessie", wife of Henry VII, who is grieving after the death of their first son, Arthur. We are then given our first introduction to Margaret Beaufort, the kings mother, where we learn how controlling she is and has always been. During the visit little Harry, the future Henry VIII, pops in and inquires about a recent beheading and confession related to Bessie's brothers who disappeared after the death of Edward the IV. This leads the girls into their tale about what really happened to the Princes in the Tower.
SPOILER ALERT!!!! The interesting twist given to the tale of the disappearing princes is in whom the girls place the blame on. Most stories finger Richard III as the princes assassin and he has been villianized through out history because of that (well that, and his decision to execute Lord Rivers...but at least he showed remorse when he learned of that mistake). In To the Tower Born we learn that Margaret Beaufort had her hand in the princes' disappearance. It actually makes sense too when you stop to think about it. She was a figure head in getting her son, Henry VII to take the crown from Richard III, and the princes could have always fought that they were true heirs against Henry once Richard was defeated. This tale takes it a step further, claiming that upon orders from Margaret Beaufort, the princes were taken from the Tower of London and placed in the basement of a remote house in England where they were left to die. However, in another twist, the princes are actually found and rescued by Bessie and Nell (and some other people). Of course by this time, the boys were both so sickly and no longer had a legitimate claim to the thrown, so they disappear into the obscurity of the history books.
I loved the twists that this tale takes. I am also semi-in-love with Richard III after having read A Rose for the Crown by Anne Easter Smith, which depicts the softer and innocent side of him. So, I am glad that another author has come up with a story that "lets him off the hook". I also have a new found hatred for Margaret Beaufort even though I know this story is fiction. Using the Burton Review Rating System, I give this book a solid 4 Stars.
Next on my reading list: The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
Check out other reviews by going to The Tudor Mania Challenge at The Burton Review