I have mixed feelings about this book. My main problem is character portrayal. I know that we are supposed to sympathize with Eleanor and the Despensers, but I found nothing to like about them in spite of the author’s best efforts. Eleanor is weak, willfully blind to all of her husband’s and uncle’s many faults, and is portrayed as a dim bulb in all respects. I think the book would have really benefited from Eleanor being part of, or at least aware of, all the action and intrigue going on around her. After all, that is where all the tension and suspense comes from, and a main character who knows less than the reader isn’t very helpful. I also found the villains (Isabella and Mortimer) to be completely one-dimensional and unbelievable. I felt the main characters suffered from the author’s attempts to so clearly draw the line between “good” and “bad.”
My other gripe was that there weren’t many details of life in the Middle Ages, and the setting never really came alive for me.
On the other hand, the story is fascinating and complex. I really appreciated the Afterward. I liked that the author tried to be as factual as possible and didn’t change any of the details (as far as I know) to suit her story. Also, in spite of being frustrated with Eleanor as a character, I did appreciate that the author didn’t try to make her a modern feminist transported back to medieval England as so many authors do. Flawed as she was, I did find myself caring what happened to her in spite of not liking her much. 2.5 stars.