Cecily by Annie Garthwaite tells the story of the beginning of the War of the Roses from the perspective of Cecily Neville, the Duchess of York.

I love history that reads like and adventure and this is a real page turner even though I knew the story of the Brothers York and how it would turn out. Centring the story on the matriarch of the family rather than on the male actors provides a brilliant perspective and probably gives room for more characterisation and historical context.

This is how to bring history to life, although I am not qualified to assess what mistakes, if any, Garthwaite has made.


The Manningtree Witches

The Manningtree Witches by AK Blakemore is one of those rare historical fictions where you cannot spot the lines between fiction and fact.

It’s 1643, the English Civil War is raging and the puritans are in the ascendancy. Rebecca West hates the menial drudgery that fills her days and chasm that separates her from the comfortable middle classes of Manningtree. When Matthew Hopkins arrives in Manningtree things take a dark turn for the marginalised working class women of the village. This is a tale of alleged witchcraft, mass hysteria, lies and vengeance and Rebecca is at the centre of the madness that follows.

The Manningtree Witches weaves historical fact, Matthew Hopkins was the Witchfinder General who instigated the Essex witch trials of this time, Rebecca West is described in the records of the trials, with an imagined narrative of the period. It is a compelling read.



Alexandria by Edmund Richardson is one of those rare histories that turns out to be a page turning mystery.

Alexandria is the story of Charles Masson; a chancer, an adventurer, a self taught archaeologist, a spy and ultimately a victim of class prejudice. It’s also a history of 19th century India and Afghanistan and the power and influence of the East India Company.

I expected this book to be about Alexandria in Egypt but it turns out that throughout his conquests of Asia and the Middle East, Alexander founded cities which were named after him including one at Bagram in Afghanistan. Masson’s search for the relics of this Alexandria in a hostile Afghan landscape is threaded into the history of the kingdom and the machinations of the British.

History or mystery, this is a great tale well told.