Day 1142: Bloodline

Cover for BloodlineI have to admit that my attention span wavered during parts of Bloodline, Conn Iggulden’s third Wars of the Roses novel. I found the emphasis on war in the first half of the book less interesting than the political maneuvering that occupied most of the first two novels. And a good portion of the middle of the novel is just about one battle, which, even though some interesting and important things happened during it, was still a battle, related in too much detail. It was only the last section, after the crowning of Edward IV, that somewhat reignited my interest.

The novel begins with Margaret of Anjou, King Henry VI’s wife, in ascendance, even though Henry is a captive of the Yorkists. She has gathered together a huge army, even bringing in Scots from up north. But she has made a mistake in letting her army loot every town and village they’ve passed on the way to London. For, when she gets to London, the city won’t let her in.

The Yorkists, now led by Richard of Warwick, are gathering their forces to fight her. Meanwhile, Edward of York, the young man whose father was made the heir to the throne by Parliament, is both goofing off and grieving for his father. But Edward finally decides to pull himself together, and when he does, he declares himself king.

Towton is a decisive battle in this segment of the Wars of the Roses. After it, Margaret has to flee, and Edward begins his reign. Ironically, his choice of bride in the rapacious Elizabeth Woodville creates the same problems for him as Margaret of Anjou’s favoring of the Percys did for Henry VI.

Like the other novels, this one shifts its viewpoint from one character to another, but it is mostly from the point of view of Richard of Warwick. I had some sympathy for Richard, but I missed Derry Brewer, who fades out of the novel in the middle after being a major character in the other two books.

All in all, I think this novel could have been much shorter. It flagged in several places. Despite the roving narration, you don’t really get to know any characters well. If there is going to be a fourth book in the series (the wars aren’t over, after all), I think I’ll skip it.

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Day 1110: Margaret of Anjou

Cover for Margaret of AnjouMargaret of Anjou, the second book of Conn Iggulden’s Wars of the Roses series, begins in 1454 with an ambush. Angry at the lands that have been going to the Nevilles, York’s allies, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, attacks a Neville wedding party on its way home from the wedding. York has been acting as Protector and Defender of the Realm while King Henry VI is suffering from mental illness. Although York has ruled well, he has favored his own allies over the friends of the King, even to murdering or imprisoning some, and has earned the enmity of the Queen, Margaret of Anjou.

But the tide is about to turn. Henry awakes from his stupor, amazed to find that Margaret has borne him an heir. He immediately dismisses York and Salisbury, Richard Neville, from his court. Soon after, he and his allies ride out to bring them to heel, starting the battles of the Wars of the Roses.

While the Yorkists reluctantly turn to treason, this book seems a little more balanced than the first between the two sides. Salisbury and York clearly have their reasons for resentment of the king’s favorites, and it is true that Henry is not an effective ruler. Still, no one hesitates in plunging the country into years of uproar and instability.

Margaret of Anjou

Like the first novel, this one switches point of view between the main characters, including Derry Brewer, the king’s spymaster, who is one of the few fictional characters. This technique allows us to understand the various positions, for some are self-righteously explaining away their own treachery. York is presented as a tragic character, while Margaret, who has often been reviled in history, is treated sympathetically. After her husband sinks back into his stupor, she does everything she can to protect her son.

I am continuing to enjoy this series, which, although it simplifies the many conflicts of this time, brings clarity to the main figures and events.

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Day 1087: Stormbird

Cover for StormbirdBased on the recommendation of Helen of She Reads Novels, I decided to try Conn Iggulden’s series Wars of the Roses. This period of British history has always been fascinating to me, yet confusing, and I have read several nonfiction books about it, as well as a few stand-alone novels about major players in the wars.

When I picked up what I thought was the first book in the series, Margaret of Anjou, I realized it was the second. So, I had to hurriedly get a copy of Stormbird. This accident assures that I will be reading at least the first two of the series.

The novel begins in 1437. King Henry VI, who is clearly not the warrior his father was, has been ceaselessly praying for an end to the Hundred Years War with France. He commands his spymaster, Derry Brewer, to find a way to a truce.

The agreement made with France is that Henry will marry Margaret of Anjou in exchange for the lands of Anjou and Maine, which Henry’s father won back from the French. At no time does Henry give thought to the countless English families who will be displaced in these two provinces.

The point of view moves from person to person throughout the novel, but no one character is central to the story. Some of these characters are the young Margaret of Anjou; Derry Brewer; the loyal William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk; Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York; Thomas Woodchurch, a former longbowman who is displaced from his farm by the truce and decides to fight; and Jack Cade, a resentful renegade who leads a band of Kentish men against London. Most of these characters were actual historical people, with the exception of Derry Brewer.  At first, I thought this constant shift in point of view would become annoying, but I finally realized it allowed me to get to know those characters better.

Iggulden admits to compressing time, making a period of almost 20 years seem like months. I think he could have just as easily indicated some passing of time, because it is occasionally jarring to think only a few months have passed, only to be brought up short by remarks, for example, that the king and queen have been married for years without issue.

Although most of the books I’ve read agree that toward the end of the wars, anyway, the Yorkists had the better claim to the throne, in this preamble to the wars, the Duke of York is definitely the villain. Although he is in charge of Normandy at the time of the truce, he does nothing to protect the fleeing English from the French armies and actively works to blame his inaction on Suffolk, who does the best he can when he takes over York’s position. I notice that the novel is dedicated to a descendant of John of Gaunt, whose immediate descendants made up the Lancastrian side of the conflict.

Overall, I found the novel quick moving and suspenseful, with interesting characters. I’ll be happy to read the second book in this series.

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