Forced to marry Hugh le Despenser, the son and grandson of disgraced traitors, Bess de Montacute, just 13 years old, is appalled at his less-than-desirable past. Meanwhile, Hugh must give up the woman he really loves in order to marry the reluctant Bess. Far apart in age and haunted by the past, can Hugh and Bess somehow make their marriage work?
Just as walls break down and love begins to grow, the merciless plague endangers all whom the couple holds dear, threatening the life and love they have built.
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I saw this book reviewed on many blogs a few months ago but didn’t know if it would be a book I’d want to read – until I read Alaine’s review. Then I won her monthly giveaway which was Hugh and Bess. It’s a wonderful story of two people ‘thrown together’ who end up truly loving each other. Hugh has endured horrible events in his life and is starting to live a normal life again. Bess is a young teen and not looking to be married at all much less to a stranger who is twenty years her senior. She’s an obedient daughter and agrees to the match.
Susan Higginbotham’s wonderful novel covers the early days of the arranged marriage; the battles that take Hugh away from Bess; and the day to day life of a knight and lady – which could entail visiting their tenants or visiting the king. Nothing prepares them, though, for the ravages of ‘the pestilence’ heading their way. No family is left untouched by this Black Death. They are powerless as they await their possible demise:
“It’s almost as if I think a soldier must feel, waiting for the enemy to attack.” (Bess)
“No. It’s worse, far worse. War’s never seemed so simple as it does now. There are rules, strategies, preparations that can be made. This is different. There is nothing we can do but wait and hope we are spared.” (Hugh)
How frightening that must have been! This really is an emotional story and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. I appreciate the research that must precede writing a book such as this. Following the end of the novel is an Author’s Note that tells what happened to the relatives and close friends of Hugh and Bess. There is also a Reading Group Guide as well as an excerpt from The Traitor’s Wife (Ms. Higginbotham’s first book).