Susan Higginbotham's Hugh and Bess picks up where The Traitor's Wife ends, and I found it to be a charming love story set in 14th century England. (I read The Traitor's Wife earlier this year. You can read my review here.)
Elizabeth "Bess" de Montacute is the 13-year-old daughter of William de Montacute, Earl of Salisbury, the close friend of Edward III. In 1330, William de Montacute was one of the knights who entered a secret passage into Nottingham Castle and arrested Roger Mortimer so that Edward III could rule independently. Bess learns that her father has agreed to marry her to 32-year-old Hugh le Despenser, and she is upset. Hugh is the son of the infamous traitor and lover of Edward II, Hugh le Despenser the younger, whose exploits are detailed in The Traitor's Wife.
After his father's death at the hands of Edward III's mother, Queen Isabella, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, Hugh is held as a prisoner for four years. Upon his release, Hugh serves as a solider and works hard to prove his loyalty to Edward III and to rebuild his family's reputation.
The marriage is suggested by Edward III, and William de Montecute tries to convince Bess that Sir Hugh is a decent, loyal man. But Bess is cold to Hugh when he is nothing but polite and attentive to her. Hugh knows the marriage is important to improving his family's name, but he is in love with Emma, a childhood friend whom he can never marry. Still, he strives to be a good husband, and despite the complications that arise when Bess befriends Emma and she becomes a fixture in Bess and Hugh's home, Bess eventually warms to Hugh and their marriage becomes one filled with love, tenderness, and passion.
Higginbotham has written a touching love story arising from an arranged marriage, and as the years pass and the plague spreads to England, Bess grows into a caring, strong woman who commands respect. Watching Bess transform and her love for Hugh grow made the book fly by, and when I turned the last page with a tear in my eye and an ache in my heart, I was sad to see it had ended so soon.
Hugh and Bess covers the years 1341 to 1350, along with a few scenes from the time just prior to Hugh's father's death in 1326 and the years of Hugh's imprisonment. Although I found the story captivating and finished it in about a day, Higginbotham does more telling than showing. People have said this about The Traitor's Wife, but I noticed it more in Hugh and Bess. It didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book, but it might explain why the book is so short. (The ARC was just a mere 275 pages.)
The characters, especially Hugh, Bess, Emma, and Joan of Kent, were extremely interesting, and scenes like the one in which Bess has too much to drink, gets feisty with the king, and faces Queen Isabella with a hangover were amusing. I thoroughly enjoyed Hugh and Bess, and if you think it sounds worth checking out, you're in luck!!
I have 2 ARCs of Hugh and Bess to give away, courtesy of Sourcebooks. To enter, leave a comment with your email address and tell me why you are intrigued by the love story of Hugh and Bess. The giveaway is open internationally and will end Sunday, August 23 at 11:59 pm EST.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of Hugh and Bess from Sourcebooks for review purposes.