18 April 2007

Book Review: The Rose of York: Fall from Grace by Sandra Worth

The Rose of York: Fall from Grace
By Sandra Worth
End Table Books
Release date: May 9, 2007
$ 16.95 ISBN: 9780975126493

“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York.”
Richard III, I.1.1-2

For all the disservice done to Richard III by Shakespeare, his opening lines of Richard III could do no more to accurately divine the shift in thought that Sandra Worth’s trilogy seeks to influence about the last Plantagenet king of England. In “The Rose of York” trilogy (Love and War, Crown of Destiny and Fall from Grace), Worth joins the likes of Shakespeare, Sir Thomas More, Horace Walpole, Alison Weir, and Beth Marie Kosir in her contribution to the commentary about the most reviled king of the English monarchy. Unlike most of her colleagues from the Early Modern period, however, Worth is not writing to appease a crown; she has no sedition laws poised to censor her text; she isn’t a mouthpiece of Tudor propaganda. Instead, Worth’s historical fiction sets out to correct centuries of rumor, political attacks, and exaggerations that have molded the image of Richard III into a villainous, “bunch-backed toad.”

In The Rose of York: Fall from Grace, Richard III is deeply in love with a woman, with the law, and with his quest to embody the ideals of King Arthur. Rather than displaying the Machiavellian suspicion that Shakespeare’s villain thrives on, Worth’s Richard III is too trusting and makes decisions based on the hope that the inherent good in his courtiers will outweigh their greed and opportunism. Unfortunately, the malicious scheming and plotting of individuals like Buckingham and Lady Beaufort consistently undermine the progress and general good that Richard III’s new laws promote. Far from the traditional depiction of Richard III as a murderous opportunist, Worth’s characterization of Richard highlights the villainy and cut throat tactics of those who would become the central core of the Tudor court.

In Rose of York: Fall from Grace, Richard is a handsome, athletic man who risks his own health to comfort his dying queen. He is a man touched by beauty and tragedy. He is a man who did not covet the title of King, but bore it with a raised awareness of responsibility and desire to change the world. Many historical fictions fall off the razor’s edge and either inundate the reader with facts and dates, or dismiss historical accuracy altogether. Worth’s Fall from Grace treads that ground carefully by giving Richard a voice that is idealistic and genuine—if not a little naive. Captivating description and real, recognizable dialogue act as a vehicle for not only historical accuracy, but a heartbreaking romance. Though readers will undoubtedly know the outcome of the story before they open the cover, Worth’s skill as a storyteller heightens audience investment in the personal lives of these historical figures and makes their tragic ends more than just an historical laundry list of dates and names. The complex relationships of the medieval court of England become easily navigable through Worth’s vibrant characterizations.

Attempting to overturn history is no small task. The complexities of court interactions and allegiances have always been convoluted, and the interpretations of those interactions have most often been told by those who had the most power. Thanks to Shakespeare, Richard III’s legacy has been one of deformity, conniving, regicide, cruelty, megalomania, usurpation, and murder. When such a negative portrait has been painted (indeed, even physical portraits were altered to reflect propaganda spread by the Tudors to alter the legacy of Richard) and maintained for generations, persuading an audience to consider facts more closely can be a monumental undertaking. Luckily, Worth’s intensive research brings together historical documentation and private correspondences to piece together the facts about Richard III’s rise to power and his short reign. Most of these facts have been available to the public, but to get an audience with a set view to revisit those same facts for reconsideration is a decisive task. Not surprisingly, Worth tackles the public opinion and wrestles it into experiencing familiar facts from a new, creative point of view.

Through the parsing together of timelines, records, and documents that have survived over 500 years of threat and suppression, Worth manages to paint a picture of Richard III that stands in direct conflict with what most people are familiar. The text is far from a didactic gloss of historical dates, names and locations, but it manages to recreate the life of Richard III with such vivacity and personality that it will forever change the mental image of one of history’s most hated monarchs.

~Review by Dawn M. Papuga

**Review completed for BookPleasures.com**

1 Comment:

Alex said...

Who'd a-thunk it that Shakespeare was molding history somewhat to fashion a set of theatrical productions that'd play well to a 15th century audience? :-) Oh, and nice Bootcamp graphic!