Last week I featured an Author Chat from the delightful Nicola Cornick, who shared her writing process behind her newest release, The Last Daughter of York. This has to be my favourite novel by Nicola – so I’m excited to feature my AMAZON REVIEW and an excerpt:
In the winter of the year 1465, when I was five years old, my uncle, the Earl of Warwick, the Kingmaker, came to Ravensworth one night, and set my life on a course I could never have imagined. It was late, and the torches were lit in the courtyard and the fires hot in the hearths for there was deep snow on the ground. I was asleep when he came, and the first that I knew of it was when my elder sister Elizabeth shook my arm roughly to awaken me. There was an odd expression on her face, of mingled envy and pity.
“Mother wants you,” she said. “You are to go to the solar.”
“Go away.” I burrowed deeper into my nest of blankets and furs. Beside me my other sister Alice turned over in her sleep, pulling the covers away from me. I pulled them back.
Elizabeth was having none of it. This time she poked me in the ribs, hard enough to banish sleep completely. “Our uncle is here,” she hissed. “Get up!”
“I need the privy now you have woken me,” I grumbled. I slid from the bed and scurried across the chamber, the cold stone of the floor chilling my bare feet before I had taken more than a couple of steps. The icy draft in the dark little corner garderobe was vicious, straight off the snow-covered fells outside. My teeth were chattering as I came out and stumbled back toward the sanctuary of the bed. I had no intention of going to find Mother in her private rooms; it mattered little to me that Uncle Warwick was here. I was a child and I wanted to sleep.
It was my father’s voice, soft and warm. A candle flared and then he was scooping me up and wrapping me in a fur-lined cloak, carrying me out into the corridor. I heard Alice’s sleepy voice. “What is it? What’s happening?”
And Elizabeth’s short answer. “They want Anne. They always want Anne.”
My father smelled of his familiar scent, and the cloak was soft and warm. I slid my arm about his neck and clung closer. I adored my father, so equable and indulgent in comparison to my high-tempered mother. But mother was a Neville born, which was to be special and important. This we all knew and understood, just as we knew she was stronger than my father whatever men say about the wife being subject to the husband’s authority.
The adult world after candles were out in the nursery was a strange and dazzling place. There was noise and light, the bustle of a castle awake whilst we, the children, slept. It made me feel both very grown up and at the same time, at a disadvantage. I wriggled in my father’s arms, suddenly wanting my independence.
“I can walk,” I told my father. “I’m not a baby.”
He laughed but there was an edge of regret to it. “No,” he said. “You are a Neville.” He placed me on my feet as we reached the door of the solar, carefully wrapping the cloak about me so that it trailed behind me like a train. It was a rich azure blue, and I drew it close as I entered and felt like a queen.
My mother and her brother were standing heads bent close together as they talked at the fireside. They drew apart as we entered the room, giving the impression of two conspirators. The room was hot and bright, and the air smelled of wine and spices, making my head spin a little. The sense of a strange, adult world grew stronger. I had no place here and yet I had been summoned.
My mother’s blue gaze was sharp as it swept over me as though looking for fault, but my uncle smiled.
“My daughter Anne, my lord.” My father was suddenly formal. Holding his hand as I was, I could feel something tense in him. He might be lord here at Ravensworth, but in this company he would forever be an outsider. He had been chosen as my mother’s consort; an ally, a liege man to the Neville clan who were the growing power in the North. Vaguely I understood this although I was too young to grasp the complexity of it.
I wondered whether I should curtsey to the earl. It felt odd when I was in my nightclothes but I did it anyway, drawing back and settling the cloak about me again so that it covered me modestly and warmed my bare feet.
My uncle Warwick seemed charmed. He crouched beside me. I had never been so close to him before, for he had previously paid no particular attention to his sister’s brood of children, particularly not the girls. He was too busy, too important.
Like my mother—like me—he had the clear blue eyes of the Nevilles, but the rest of his face reminded me of a hawk, it was so fierce and predatory. People accused the Nevilles of pride and arrogance, and it was written there for all to see, in the hard line of his cheek and jaw and the cold assessing gleam of his eye. He was a great man, second only to our kinsman King Edward, or he had been until the previous year when the king had married secretly and raised up a whole raft of his wife’s relatives to the nobility. Uncle Warwick hated the Queen because of the influence she held; this was something else that I knew because I had overheard my parents speak of it. People will speak freely before children, just as they will before servants, thinking us deaf perhaps or too young to understand.
“How do you do, Mistress Anne,” the Earl of Warwick said. “You have a great look of the Nevilles about you.”
I was clever enough to recognize this as a compliment. “Thank you, my lord,” I said.
“What age are you?”
“I am five years old, my lord.”
He nodded. “Tell me, Mistress Anne, what do you know of marriage?”
My father was standing behind me. I felt him make an instinctive movement and saw the moment my mother caught his hand and the words on his tongue died unsaid. I looked the Earl of Warwick in the eye.
“Marriage is an alliance of wealth and power, my lord,” I said, and he burst out laughing.
“Well said, little maid.” He stood up, still smiling. “I like her, Alice,” he said to my mother. “She is both comely and clever. You have chosen well.”