The Stone Rose – by Carol McGrath – independent book review – Historical Fiction (England)

NOTE: I was given early access to this manuscript through netgalley in exchange for writing an impartial review. Thank you Headline Accent. Publication: April 21, 2022.

THE STONE ROSE is book three in the ROSE trilogy or SHE-WOLVES trilogy by Carol McGrath (about Queens of England) and I admit upfront I have not read the previous two books:

  1. THE SILKEN ROSE about English Queen Eleanor (or Allenore of Provence, wife to King Henry III (which I admit I’ve already purchased)
  2. THE DAMASK ROSE about Eleanor of Castile, wife to Edward I. (I’ll probably read this one too.)
    This third volume in the series is about Isabella of France (1295-1358) wife to Edward II (1284-1327). Judging by this one, it appears each book stands on its own.

Those of you familiar with British history may already know a bit about both Isabella and Edward. He is famous for the gruesome way in which he may have died. She for being the powerful shrew who supposedly coveted her husband’s power. But author Carol McGrath’s historical novel is much more sympathetic toward Isabella than many other accounts.

The novel has two storylines, taking place about 30 years apart. Most of the story is focused on Edward and Isabella. The other thread concerns Agnes, a young stone mason in the 1350s, who is asked to work on Isabella’s tomb. She too is an historical figure.

Let’s begin with Edward II, who strikes me as a prince to be pitied. He is one of 15 children. He also no doubt grew up in the shadow of his much-respected, warrior father, Edward I, aka Edward Longshanks and Hammer of the Scots. It also seems Edward II was either gay or bisexual, which, at a time, was a sin according to the teachings of the very influential church. So it’s not so surprising that Edward II fell under the “spell” of a number of attractive, male favorites over the years. Piers Gaveston (1284-1312) and Hugh Despenser (1287-1326) being the two most famous.

Now Isabella, as daughter of French King Philip IV (1268-1314) and Joan I (1273-1305) of Navarre, winds up married to Edward II at the age of 12. She has been raised with the expectations that she is to make this political alliance prosper. But while her husband has lots of interests in learning about the work of peasants, he does not show much interest in or inclination for the work of governing. Instead, he spends excessively on both his lifestyle and on disastrous battles with the Scots. He listens exclusively to the voices of his ambitious favorites, rewarding them with lands, manors, and power. Consequently, he alienates all the other nobles in the realm.

So, what is Isabella to do? Her friends are suffering and getting increasingly discontented. Is it her duty to remain steadfastly loyal to her husband? What about her rightful duty as Queen in her adopted country? And how about her responsibility to maintain peace between France and England?

Author Carol McGrath
photo from her Website

Carol McGrath has clearly done extensive research and is skilled at adding rich detail so the reader feels immersed in the time period. If anything, I found that detail a bit excessive at times, making parts of the story slow-moving. THAT is a minor complaint however. It’s always fascinating for me to read historical fiction focused on prominent women — since they are so often given short shrift by traditional historians. I do recommend this book and I plan to read the other novels in the series.

More about the author, Carol McGrath.

You may be interested in my review of another book by Carol McGrath, The Handfasted Wife, part of another series called Daughters of Hastings.

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