The setting is England, circa 1480-1520, and the titular “Bright Shadow” is Katherine Plantagenet – daughter, sister, aunt of kings – one of the daughters of Edward IV and his queen, Elizabeth Woodville (or as this book has it, Wydville). Katherine was in a perfect position to observe that action. This is an epic treatment of about forty years of royal history and is told from many points of view; Katherine Plantagenet is only one of those we follow through those turbulent years.
The story begins with Edward IV’s untimely death, and then the games for power begin. Edward V is a boy, and a number of men feel that a) the Wydvilles have way too much power and b) they themselves would make a better king. One of these men is Edward IV’s brother Richard, who claims the throne as Richard III, an action that sends the political plots reeling off in a dozen directions. On the Lancastrian side is Henry Tudor (Henry VII), whose claim is tenuous but whose mother is tenacious. Henry wins the day and marries Katherine’s oldest sister, Elizabeth. The Yorkists plot to take back the throne as Katherine tries to stay out of the deadly game of York/Lancaster politics that continues into the reign of Henry VIII.
Bright Shadow is a fine novel, well-researched, impeccably detailed, and making the plot-counterplot politics of the time clear. Tudor fans will enjoy it, while Ricardians will object to the portrayal of Richard as child-murderer; anti-Ricardians will feel he’s treated too much as an honorable man. This book falls somewhere between “Richard III: England’s Demon King” and “Richard III: England’s Grail Knight” in dealing with him. Katherine herself remains an ardent (if silent) Yorkist, and readers who like their roses white will find this book to their liking.