Historical fiction tends to fall into two categories — adventure and romance. As indicated by its title, The Virgin Widow firmly falls into the latter category. It doesn’t disappoint in that area, and actually surprises the reader with an English-based historical romance that doesn’t take place in and around the reign of Henry VIII. The author, Anne O’Brien, also appears to have done her research and written a book that feels true to the times.
The best thing about this book is the setting. I don’t know a whole lot about the War of the Roses. It was great to read a book that takes place during the power struggle between the families of York and Lancaster. It starts off with Anne and her family, the Nevilles, on a boat from England to Calais, with Anne’s sister, Isabel, in labor. Anne’s father, the Earl of Warwick, was adviser to the Edward IV, the King of England, but the two have had a falling out over the Queen, Elizabeth, and the amount of influence she has over the King’s decisions. The plot of the book goes on to follow some of the events of the war, which, to me, is great. I can learn while I read? Fantastic!
I also think that Anne is an admirable character, for the most part. She is smart and spirited, and, since the book is in first person, we get to follow her thought processes. I suppose this is probably standard for romance novels; being in the person’s shoes allows for a more complete fantasy. I still liked it.
O’Brien gives Anne’s story a nonlinear structure to discuss Anne’s childhood, which is also nice. I liked the excitement of the opening chapter with the quiet storytelling of the next couple. It wasn’t an obtrusive way of making a book both grab the reader and tell the character’s story fully.
The Virgin Widow does, however, have a couple of flaws. The first is how Anne, for such a strong girl and, later, woman, comes to believe she has to rely on a man to protect her. I’m guessing this is part of the romance, but I found it off-putting. Why on Earth would a widow, an independent person with her own rights, have to stay in a household with a man in it, for example? She shouldn’t need safe-keeping. This bothered me quite a bit. I don’t know how O’Brien justified Anne’s passivity with regards to her decision-making and personal safety, but I didn’t care for it.
My other issue is with the writing itself. I’ve rarely seen so many ellipses in a book. It was a bit distracting. Not everything a woman says has something else implied at the end or is a half-finished thought. The men usually get full sentences; why don’t the women, too?
Overall, I think that The Virgin Widow is a historically-accurate romance, which counts for a lot. I’d like to see a more forward woman in Anne when it comes to men, since she’s bold in other ways, and a bit more polish on the dialogue. Other than that, it’s a fine light read.