Book review: Anne O’Brien, The Queen’s Rival

England, 1459.

One family united by blood. Torn apart by war…

The Wars of the Roses storm through the country, and Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, plots to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne.

But when the Yorkists are defeated at the battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandon her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.

Stripped of her lands and imprisoned in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit. One that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King Edward IV.


I was so excited to get hold of this! I absolutely love Anne’s books, and here, we focus on Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, one of the key women in the Wars of the Roses, and of course, mother to two future kings of England…

I’ve said it before about Anne O’Brien’s writing, that it takes amazing skill to tell a tale of which most readers surely know the end, and yet still make it a page-turner, and utterly un-put-down-able. But that’s what we have in The Queen’s Rival. The style of the writing helps with this too, through a combination of letters, extracts from England’s Chronicle, and parts of the tale told through Cecily’s own eyes, first hand. I’ve struggled with some books in the past, which have centred around a woman’s story, when so much of the action is happening elsewhere, either on the battlefield or at court, but that isn’t the case here. The letters from male relatives give first-hand accounts of what is happening, as well as rumours reported from other women, primarily Cecily’s sisters, Anne and Katherine. Of all elements of the story, these are the bits I enjoyed best, as although I knew Cecily had been imprisoned with her sister Anne, I didn’t know anything of their relationship, and the letters between each of the sisters at various stages really showed that in truth, such relationships are the same, whether in the 1400s or now.

There are also domestic worries in the midst of rebellion and treason, with admonishments to an absent husband / father to write, or think of his children, and even a telling-off for poor George, after picking on his younger brother Richard.

Cecily Neville was undoubtedly a strong woman, having gone through so much loss and heartache, and yet held firm throughout; she would have made a wonderful Queen of England, if fate had gone her way, even if saying that might have done England out of my favourite monarch, Richard III.

As with all of Anne’s books, I would highly recommend this to any fans of the era.

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About Anne

Sunday Times Bestselling author Anne O’Brien was born in West Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history.

Today she has sold over 700,000 copies of her books medieval history novels in the UK and internationally. She lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire. The area provides endless inspiration for her novels which breathe life into the forgotten women of medieval history.

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