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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Review: Cecily

Title: Cecily
Author: Annie Garthwaite

Publisher: 29th July 2021 by Penguin General UK - Fig Tree, Hamish Hamilton, Viking, Penguin Life, Penguin Business Viking

Pages: 393 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction

My Rating: 5 crowns



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 unseen protagonist, this astonishing debut plunges you into the blood and exhilaration of the first days of the Wars of the Roses, a war as women fight it.

My Thoughts

‘Women have no swords, brother. We do our work by talking.’

There is historical fiction and then there is Cecily. WOW! This is purist historical fiction at its best. This is one of those rare and memorable tales that gives voice to someone I had barely heard of but will now forever remember. Set at the conclusion of the Hundred Years War between England and France, and moving to the beginning of the Wars of the Roses, this story focuses on the life of Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, mother of King Edward IV and Richard III and a force within her own right. 

This is powerhouse female historical fiction of an incredible woman from English history. Cecily is captivating, brilliant and on a mission. Highly intelligent she uses her ruthless bravery to further the fortunes of her loved ones and the love of country. For all this, I believe, she is portrayed as somehow authentic with her reality jumping off the pages. This is not some light version of history, oh no, here we have strategic planning, courageous confrontations, deadly battles and heart wrenching losses. A feminine view on a very much manly world of kings and courtiers. Here we are given a heroine to follow and cheer for. 

‘In her private darkness she calculates the value of all she has learned since coming into France: that the will of God, which has called all things into being, might turn a child into a king, a girl into a warrior, or a body into ash. And that any man – or woman indeed – may, according to their courage, shape His will to their purpose.’

This story with its cast of characters is rich in detail, locales and plots - in every aspect of the word. Through Cecily’s eyes you see all the outward trials of living in a cunning court to the inward matrimonial love yet sorrow of so many pregnancies and so much loss. It is consuming and fascinating as fact after fact is beautifully narrated with flowing fiction. Through it all the strength of the matriarch shines through and it is glorious to read. 

‘We depend, all, from Fortune’s wheel, and the wheel turns faster when pushed.’

Annie (author) does an amazing job in so many respects. You cannot help but be impressed with the depth and breadth of her research. To craft a story that reads so well for today’s audience is impressive. It is as if you are standing beside Cecily as she wisely considers the best course of action, or mourns and moves on. Add to that the descriptions of residences and rooms, the bitter winds of an English winter and it really becomes a complete novel. 

I thank Penguin Publishers UK for reaching out and offering a book I may otherwise have missed. If epic historical fiction is your thing, be sure not to miss Annie Garthwaite's incredible debut. As the author states herself:

‘Cecily lived through eighty years of tumultuous history, never far from the beating heart of power. She mothered kings, created a dynasty, brought her family through civil war. She met victories and defeats in equal measure and, in face of them all, lived on. Last woman standing. There had to be a story there, surely?’

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This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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