Originally published: 29 July 2021
Author: Annie Garthwaite
Published by: Viking Books
Length: 384 pages
Reading dates: 4-9 August 2021
The word is a spark. They can start a fire with it, or smother it in their fingertips.
She chooses to start a fire.
You are born high, but marry a traitor’s son. You bear him twelve children, carry his cause and bury his past.
You play the game, against enemies who wish you ashes. Slowly, you rise.
You are Cecily.
But when the king who governs you proves unfit, what then?
Loyalty or treason – death may follow both. The board is set. Time to make your first move.
Told through the eyes of its greatest unknown protagonist, this astonishing debut plunges you into the closed bedchambers and bloody battlefields of the first days of the Wars of the Roses, a war as women fight it.
Cecily begins in 1931 in Rouen, France where Richard Duke of York and his 16 year old wife Cecily witness Joan of Arc being burnt at the stake. From this dramatic opening, Cecily details the trials and tribulations of life in the 15th Century, in the midst of the Hundred Years’ War with France.
The book details the politics of the time with Cecily as Richard’s wife, certainly not taking a backward seat, often advising her husband and others and standing up the King and Queen to protect her family when she needed to. She was a remarkable woman, giving birth to 12 children of whom 7 survived beyond childhood. Her marriage to Richard, although an arranged marriage seemed to be one of genuine love and respect.
This was a remarkable and accomplished debut, one which should be savoured. I struggled to begin with to get into this book but realised this was because it needed my undivided attention and is the sort of book that should have time dedicated to it and not be read in short bursts. I won’t pretend I knew exactly what was going on at all times – there are many important figures documented in this novel and many historical events which I struggled at times to keep track of. But I very much enjoyed the social history – the details of the marriages of girls who are still children to men who are often older to strengthen ties between them and the childbirth which was harrowing. I also liked the interactions between the women – especially between Cecily and the young Marguerite, the French Queen of Henry VI.
Cecily does not suffer fools. She ended up being the mother to two kings during the War of the Roses (which takes place after this book ends). She persuades her husband to commit treason. She married off her daughters to bad men in order to increase her families power. She is an amazing historical figure and I will never forget her. Annie Garthwaite has written a stunning debut about a woman that history had brushed aside.
Thank you to Georgia for my gifted proof copy and for inviting me on the tour. Lots of other lovely bloggers are shouting about this book so be sure to check out their posts!
About the author:
Annie Garthwaite grew up in a working class community in the north-east of England.
A schoolgirl interest in medieval history became a lifelong obsession with Cecily Neville, so, at age fifty-five, she enrolled on the Warwick Writing MA programme. Her extraordinary debut novel Cecily is the result. During a thirty-year international business career she frequently found herself the only woman at the table, where she gained valuable insights into how a woman like Cecily might have operated.
Today she lives with her partner – and far too many animals – on the side of a green Shropshire hill close to the Yorkist stronghold of Ludlow.