In this novel set in late 15th-century England, Rose Whitby, the young daughter of a peasant midwife, becomes the servant and playmate of Lady Anne Neville, who will one day be the wife of King Richard III. Taken to Middleham Castle, Rose observes Richard as a young knight in training, and he ultimately wins her heart. But she also has a deep loyalty and fondness for Anne. Rose has a front-row seat as Richard and Anne’s lives unfold, and on two occasions, widely separated in time, she becomes Richard”s lover. Meanwhile, she marries a commoner, has children, and follows her mother’s footsteps as a healer. Ultimately, she is there to witness the aftermath of Richard’s death.
I liked the author’s evenhanded view of history and the fact that her characters do not divide neatly into heroes and villains. She obviously sympathizes with Richard but does not turn him into a saint. She lets Rose be as perplexed as many of us are today about the apparent contradictions in his character. Anne Neville’s first husband, Prince Edward, is also allowed a large measure of complexity. People on both sides of the battle lines are human and prey to frailties and human tragedies (though Henry VII’s mother certainly seems like a complete villain). This is, in other words, a grown-up’s view of history. Rose is a strong character with an interesting life of her own, apart from the royalty she loves and serves. All in all, Roan Rose is an enjoyable historical novel that manages to be romantic and also intelligent.