Red vs White. Lancaster vs York. These words spring to mind when discussing the infamous Wars of the Roses. The name given to this turbulent period is somewhat romantic, and encourages thoughts of chivalric knights fighting for their houses, and ultimately the throne. The name however, was not used until much later, made famous by the Elizabethan playwright Shakespeare. In actuality, the battles that dominated the latter half of the Fourteenth Century were much bloodier, chaotic and family orientated than the romantic name suggests. Cousin vs cousin, uncle vs nephew, the old Plantagenet bloodlines fighting each other for the right to rule England.
The death of Richard III at Bosworth field and the start of Henry Tudor’s reign are often the events that overshadow the politics of the era. The problems that came to a head during Henry VI’s rule and after have roots in the death of Edward III, leaving behind five strong sons who all had their own families and strong links to the crown. This is how Conn Iggulden begins his first epic novel in his War of the Roses trilogy.
By opening at Edward III’s deathbed, Iggulden demonstrates how important the role of family is within this period. It is his descendants that dominate the politics of this period. This is particularly interesting as the history behind the Wars of the Roses is not very well known. The way Iggulden brings together the storylines of various people, from Derry Brewer, the king’s spymaster, to Margaret of Anjou, to Jack Cade and the Kentish rebels successfully offers the reader a range of perspectives.
The battle scenes are incredibly detailed and gripping, leaving the reader page turning desperately to discover the outcome and consequences of the fight. By detailing the personal journey of an archer and the leader of the Kentish rebels shows the human side to warfare, and encourages the reader to question if there are any winners to such battles.
Conn Iggulden is a master storyteller. His descriptive and first person narrative through different characters really draws the reader in and allows true escapism into a chaotic world where anyone could die in seconds. Not even the king feels safe.
The only criticism perhaps is that the reader has no real sense of time passing. Naturally when detailing such a long period of time, the author has to have a license to bring events closer together. Often the periods in between the action were quite dull and would not have fit the fast pace of the novel. This is elaborated upon in the author’s historical notes at the end of the book which detail where and when he has used his imagination in the hope for a better story. Conn Iggulden did not fail on that count. The addition of the notes detailing a more accurate history are certainly an added bonus that many other novels are lacking.