Richard III is judged harshly by history, but in Smithís historical fiction we meet a far different man: the younger brother of King Edward IV, before Richard is burdened with statecraft and the political machinations of royal life. A player in the great drama for the throne of England in the War of the Roses, the young Richard is enchanted by Kate Haute, a lovely girl he meets while hunting.
Raised by a well-placed cousin distantly related to the queen, Kateís prospects are significantly improved by her marriage to an aging but kind merchant. After his death, Kate looks for love in the arms of George Haute, but the handsome George is a staggering disappointment, leaving the new bride faced with a loveless and childless marriage.
Were it not for her quick wit and easy charm, Kate might never have attracted the attention of Richard of Gloucester. The fated romance changes Kateís future, although the relationship is doomed by social incompatibility. For five idyllic years, the two enjoy a passionate love affair until Richard is forced to marry a wife befitting his position. The pair have three children, who bear Kateís husbandís name.
Kate basks in Richardís love, content to remain in the shadows even when brutalized by her husband to learn her loverís identity. Against the turmoil of the warring houses of Lancaster and York, Kateís clandestine love affair with Richard is a respite for the beleaguered monarch-to-be, Kate a perfect foil for endless intrigues that surround the throne.
As the war accelerates, Kate learns firsthand the incessant schemes and battles Richard is faced with, his role increasingly defined by protecting the lineage of his brother, King Edward. The authorís careful delineation of the plot does much to illustrate the enormous toll of an ongoing conflict on citizens caught in the middle, over-taxed and burdened by military campaigns that sap the energy of a war-exhausted country.
Reality strikes soon enough, Richardís marriage to Anne Neville prompting him to terminate the affair with Kate, who must relinquish her lover to his fate, left with only memories to sustain her. Thereafter, the inordinate joy of their union extracts its revenge on Kate, who must release her children to Richardís care, assuring their future as the offspring of royalty.
Bearing the weight of her choices with good grace, mixing with peasant and prince, participating in the unpredictable futures of the less fortunate and the privilege of nobility, Kate Haute witnesses a war that drains the country of resources and goodwill toward their king. This great love affair is tempered with the harsh realities of fifteenth-century England, capturing Richard at his most vulnerable, Kate Haute a buffer against a contentious, brutal world of soulless internecine politics.