When Anna Belfrage invited me onto her blog, I was all of a tither. After all, Ms Belfrage (curtseys) is a fabulous medieval historical fiction writer. The Godmother’s Secret was my first foray into the mysterious world of the 15th century, so I was understandably a little anxious. I need not have worried. Anna is a true friend of authors, and wrote this fabulous review!
Today, I have Elizabeth St.John visiting and I am absolutely thrilled, because Elizabeth is here to talk about her new release, The Godmother’s Secret. But first, my review. I could make this very short: WOW! But no, I won’t do that 🙂 Read on, dear peeps.
Say England in the fifteenth century and most historically minded people will say “Aha! The War of the Roses and the Princes in the Tower.”
And yes, this novel set in late fifteenth century England is precisely about those two princes—and about the woman who has sworn a holy oath to protect the eldest of them, come what may.
To write a book about events so many people have heard about can be a challenge. If nothing else, the narrative is well-known and, to some extent, overrepresented in historical fiction. Such concerns fade away almost immediately when reading Ms St.John’s beautifully written novel, featuring her own ancestress and namesake, Elysabeth St.John, Lady Scrope.
Ms St.John paints with words, and from the pages rise images of medieval London, complete with smoky haze, loud and dangerous crowds and dark alleys. The Thames ebbs and flows, and over it all looms the Tower, so central to this story. Whether it be the countryside round Elysabeth’s beloved Bolton Castle, or the oppressive grandeur of the Jerusalem chamber to which Elizabeth Woodville, queen of England, has fled claiming sanctuary, the descriptions has this reader seeing it all through Elysabeth’s eyes.
Add to this a pacy, twitching prose and I find myself sitting on tenterhooks, hoping against hope that maybe—maybe!—Elysabeth’s prayers will help and the historical facts will rearrange themselves into something resembling a Happily Ever After for all those involved. Not so: Ms St.John is a stickler for historical facts, but she is also most adept at spinning stories to fill in the gaps that history has so conveniently left us.
In The Godmother’s Secret, I yet again meet characters such as Richard III, his boon companions and the two endearing princes. And then, of course there is Elysabeth, so determined to safeguard dear Ned (Prince Edward), so frustrated by the restrictions put on her by her gender, so afraid of what the future will bring and what it may all cost her and her extended family. Mind you, Elysabeth’s family is huge. She’s related to almost all the principal players bar the royals and while there are some cousins she cannot stand—like Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham—she is driven by a strong sense of loyalty towards her family, even those that perhaps do not deserve it, like her half-sister, Margaret Beaufort.
Ms St.John’s Margaret Beaufort is ruthless and manipulative—and deeply unlikeable due to those traits. But she is also kind-hearted and caring, and one cannot help but feel some compassion for this brilliantly intelligent woman who has only one son, a son she is convinced will one day become king. As a supporting mother, she does everything she can to help him on his way—which is a lot. As a protective mother, she takes whatever measures she considers necessary to safeguard her son’s future destiny—no matter who gets crushed along the way.
The Godmother’s Secret is a gem, one of those books that somehow manages to tell the same old story but spin it in such a way that it all seems new again. It takes quite some skill as a writer to achieve that. Brava, Ms St.John, Brava!