Queen of the North

Written by Anne O’Brien
Review by Charlotte Wightwick

Queen of the North tells the story of Elizabeth Mortimer, wife of Henry Percy (known to history – and Shakespeare fans – as Hotspur). Set in the turbulent years at the start of the 15th century, as Henry IV first wrests the crown from Richard II and then fights to keep it, it is a story of love, ambition, power, and the consequences of playing for high stakes. As she is the great-granddaughter of Edward III, Elizabeth’s family has a claim to the throne arguably as good as that of Henry IV. And the Percys are a power in their own right, effective rulers of northern England and crucial to keeping the Scots at bay. Together, Elizabeth and Hotspur are a formidable couple, using their networks of blood and allegiance to their own advantage. Their passionate natures and personal family loyalties add another level of tension: sometimes they work together, sometimes in opposition to one another. But when their attempt at the crown goes catastrophically wrong, Elizabeth must seek to salvage what she can for herself and her children.

As always, Anne O’Brien’s storytelling is vivid and captivating, bringing to life the tangled web of loyalties inherent in medieval politics. One of the most compelling aspects of the novel, however, is O’Brien’s depiction of Elizabeth’s emotions as she gradually comes to accept and take responsibility for the consequences of her ambition. A highly enjoyable read.