Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hugh and Bess by Susan Higginbotham

Hugh and Bess by Susan Higginbotham
Copyright 2009
Sourcebooks - Fiction/Historical
275 pages
Susan Higginbotham's Website

Subtitled "An Unforgettable Novel of Young Love Set in 14th Century England," Hugh and Bess begins with the impending marriage of young Bess de Montacute to 32-year-old Hugh le Despenser, a man whose father and grandfather were both executed as traitors.

Bess could not be less pleased. Already a widow at 13 1/2, she has inherited substantial properties and would just as soon remain unmarried. That her parents are marrying her off to a man whose family is infamous is bad enough -- but he's old.

Once married, Bess is surprised to find that Hugh is affectionate and patient. As a knight, he must occasionally leave to battle the Scots and, later, France. But, Bess has been taught how to handle a large estate on her own and each absence gives her a little more time to adjust to actually living as a married woman. Eventually, Hugh wins Bess over and a genuine love begins to grow; and, that is when they begin to face their biggest challenges, including the knowledge of Hugh's past love, the fighting in France and then the Black Plague. Will they survive the unrelenting spread of the Black Death or will Hugh and Bess be taken, as well?

What a fun read. I am rather History Stupid, so if there are any errors or changes in the historical facts (other than those listed by the author), I wouldn't recognize them. The 14th century was such a dark, dirty, violent time -- that much I know. Bess and Hugh are wealthy, so they're attended by servants and one only glimpses the violence through descriptions of executions and deaths during war. For the most part, Hugh and Bess is really the story of how one couple, separated by a generation in age and each carrying burdens of ancestry and family horrors, manage to slowly discover love.

Bess is a little bit simpering, at first, but I think we all were at 13. At least, I certainly was. I loved the way her character gradually grew into a woman of strength, courage and passion. Hugh is likeable from the outset, a man whose sense of humor eventually endears him to most everyone. He's also tender but strong, courageous in battle but emotional in times of loss. I just loved the characters.

4.5/5 - Breezy historical fiction with great characters and plotting. There is quite a huge cast, but the book is so readable that I had little trouble distinguishing one from another (even though there were many Edwards and Joans).

I haven't read Higginbotham's first book, The Traitor's Wife, but I enjoyed Hugh and Bess so much that I will definitely add The Traitor's Wife to my wish list, post haste.


  1. Great review. This one sounds so good.

  2. Thanks for the review...this does sound like one that I would enjoy!

  3. Holly,

    I think you'd like it. It's good historical fiction, but also a fairly light, quick read. :)


    It's a good one. Now, off to add The Traitor's Wife to my wish list, which only goes to show that reading books is a bit like knocking over a chain of dominoes . . . one read leads to another and another and another.

  4. I think I'm going to have to look for this one, it sounds really interesting. I love historical fiction, even though I'm not usually much of an expert on whether or not it's "correct" ...

  5. Bridget,

    I think it's sometimes an advantage not knowing your history well, when it comes to historical fiction. At least you don't feel the flow is interrupted because you can't spot mistakes. I would like to be better educated in history, though. Sadly lacking, here.

  6. Thanks for the review! (And if you think there were a lot of Edwards here, just wait for The Traitor's Wife! These people sorely could have used a "What to Name the Baby" book.)

  7. Susan,

    You're welcome! And, yeah . . . there was another book I read, last year, in which everyone was named after everyone else (same century). You did a great job of keeping the different characters clearly defined.

  8. This sounds like one I need to try. Great review!

  9. I really liked this book, too! I also haven't read her other book, but I really must get to it soon. :)

  10. Kathy,

    I think you'd like this one, yep. Go for it. :)


    Yay, I'm glad you liked it, too! I went straight to my wish list to add the other book. Sometimes it's fun being an addict. LOL

  11. So glad you enjoyed this one! I still have to read The Traitor's Wife too!

  12. I like the look of this one...thanks for the review.

  13. Marg,

    I should have known you've read this one -- must have missed your review, but it's definitely a Marg kind of book!! I'm glad you loved it. :) We'll have to discuss The Traitor's Wife when we get our mitts on it.

  14. Bybee,

    Any time. You know how I love to enable. :)

  15. If you think all the Edwards and Joans are confusing, you haven't seen anything until you read The Traitor's Wife. That book has a character listing in the front to help keep everyone straight.

    I really enjoyed Hugh & Bess. I thought it was a charming love story.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  16. Anna,

    The author left a comment above yours, saying the same thing and noting that people of the time period were seriously in need of a good baby name book. That's good that The Traitor's Wife contains a cast of characters, then!

    So agree with you. "Charming" is a good way to describe Hugh and Bess. I loved Hugh's sense of humor.

  17. This sounds like a good book. I like historicals that are not heavy on the history details. lol
    Have you read any of Tamera Alexander's books?

  18. Brittanie,

    Me, too. Some historical fiction is a little on the heavy side. I liked the lightness of this one.

    Not yet. Tamera Alexander's on my list of "gotta get to her someday" authors.

  19. Wonderful review! It's on my TBR!

  20. Ooh, this one sounds great! I love reading books set in those scrungy historical periods when things were rough. One of my all-time fave books, Pope Joan, was set in the 9th century and it was fascinating. Like you, though, I wouldn't have a clue if they screwed up the history. Oh well! It's fun nonetheless!

  21. Teddy Rose,

    I hope you love it as much as I did!

  22. Andiloo,

    I have never read Pope Joan and now I'll have no choice but to read it. Sigh. You get me in all sorts of trouble. :)

    Hugh and Bess is a good one. I love the fact that Hugh has a sense of humor.

  23. All the Edwards, Henrys, Charleses....gah. The book sounds good! Being wealthy didn't save you from all the violence, they used to draw & quarter traitors. Charming custom.

  24. Carrie,

    I am in dire straits. I just wrote your name "Carry". Beddy-bye time?

    Yes, poor Hugh's father and grandfather had a little bit of that kind of problem when they were found to be traitors -- getting all hanged and chopped to bits and such. Yurgh.


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