Anne Easter Smith's A Rose for the Crown shapes fiction from fact during the life of Richard III. The novel sweeps her reader up into all the romance, tragedy, and intrigue of the War of the Roses as the author spins a story about the king's illegitimate children and the woman who bore them. There's a fascinating marriage of history and creative exploration in the premise of the story: while the mother of Richard’s children has never been discovered, Smith has crafted a heroine for the role inspired by a woman who existed in Richard’s time and had connections with the king: Katherine Haute. Using one of history's most convoluted monarchs and a fictional woman drawn from the silhouette of truth, Anne Easter Smith crafts a sweeping and beautiful epic of secret love and ruthless war; of the true heart of family, and most especially of the impossible bonds that connect us throughout life. A Rose for the Crown also struck me as being very much a tribute to the forgotten women of the 15th century, those too "low" of breeding for their histories to have been diligently recorded, yet who undoubtedly lived remarkable lives of valor, loyalty, and bravery in their own way. As a voice for those women, Kate is a delightfully impassioned, willful, and consistently lovable creation.
Kate also serves as a doorway to a more human, vulnerable representation of Richard III than the common legacy suggests. In her author’s note following the book’s conclusion, Smith points out the discrepancies of Shakespeare's depiction (a depiction that has been roundly disproved). Instead, she moves to introduce her reader to Richard as a romantic – if deeply burdened and misunderstood – hero. Her diligent research combines with her clarity of voice and her ability to guide her reader through what could otherwise be quite the complication of names and deeds.
No matter how complex the cast, though, there's a quality of the novel that kept me engrossed and kept the expanse of material easy to navigate. The history of the story and the nuances of the characters came so strongly to life under Smith's steady prose that this nearly 700-page novel became an escapist's dream. She takes consistent note of the dress and habits of the era, yet without encumbering her reader. What's important to lend the story its authenticity shines through, but ultimately it discretely paves the way for the crux of the novel, which is its heartrending story. With its staggering emotional impact of lives and loves lost and found, and with its careful handling of the intricacies of history, A Rose for the Crown is a terrific example of historical fiction; I highly recommend it to fans of the genre.