Laura Ashe, Richard II: A Brittle Glory (Penguin Monarchs), (London: Penguin, 2017)
With a particular connection to Shakespeare’s play about Richard, and a few Penguin Monarchs already under my belt, I’d really hoped for something special from this book.
I was disappointed.
The main issue is not Laura Ashe’s subject knowledge (clearly immense), or even her writing style (clear and accessible enough). What distracted me and deters me from recommending this without reservation is the approach she took: thematic rather than chronological.
The consequence of this, for a biography, is that it is difficult – almost impossible – to follow the subject’s life. For someone looking for contextual information for their studies of Shakespeare’s play, or as a starting point for the historical period, it is difficult to piece together the factors which may have combined to cause a decision, policy or event. The reader needs to produce their own chronological framework – which is surely what this book should do – before they can start to synthesise their own ideas. And if you are interested in the themes and not the person, there are probably much more useful books out there, given how short and condensed the Penguin Monarch series is – again, that’s not a criticism of Ashe.
Overall, whilst it’s not one to avoid, be prepared to be frustrated by the disjointed narrative. An opportunity to produce something really useful has been squandered.