‘War of the Roses: Stormbird’ by Conn Iggulden

9780718196349

King Henry V- the great Lion of England- is long dead.
In 1437 his gentle son comes of age and takes the throne. Frail in body and mind, King Henry VI is dependent on is supporters to run his Kingdom.
Richard, Duke of York, however believes that without a strong king England will fall. His fears seem justified as English power comes under threat from France, and discontent and rebellion spread at home.
On the counsel of his advisors, Henry marries the young princess Margaret of Anjou in order to forge an alliance with France- but is it too late?
As the storm clouds gather, King Henry and his queen are besieged abroad and at home. Who can save the throne? Who will save the Kingdom?

 After the recent success of the BBC’s ‘Hollow Crown’ adaptation of Shakespeare’s History plays based on the War of the Roses (Henry VI Parts 1 and 2, Richard III) I have become increasingly interested in that period of history. Before watching the show, I knew very little about that era of British history as my school lessons began with Henry Tudor (King Henry VII) winning the war, being crowned King of England and establishing what he hoped would be a long lasting Tudor dynasty that never actually outlived his granddaughter. So when I heard that Conn Iggulden had written a bestselling series dramatising the wars in exquisite detail I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the four books he had released so far.

The first in the series, ‘Stormbird’ didn’t disappoint me. It centered on King Henry VI, a weak, sickly man who struggles to live up to his warrior father’s legacy. Henry, a peaceful man who wants nothing more than to stop the war in France, orders his faithful spymaster Derry Brewer to do whatever is necessary to secure a peace, even if that means giving back the territories of Anjou and Maine his father fought so hard to win. But this doesn’t sit well with Richard, Duke of York, who has spent years defending the British ruled French territories and the English people who had settled there. It doesn’t sound good to those English settlers either, who suddenly found themselves homeless refugees without any compensations for their losses.

What I really loved about this book was the vivid sense it brought history to life. No one character was truly hero or villain, they were all just people struggling through life making whatever decision their conscience easily allowed. Although there was a lot of decisions based on a somewhat outdated code of honour and integrity (especially from York and Suffolk) it never felt too stilted or wooden. The battle scenes were truly incredible, especially Jack Cade’s revolution. It’s strange because I’ve honestly never heard of Cade before, and although he was obviously a rogue his story is such a fantastic and intriguing one you’d think it would have been immortalised in some film or TV show by now.

All in all I found it absolutely fascinating and truly brilliant. I adored the time period and all the details that Iggulden effortlessly threads through the story. The invention of the character of Derry Brewer was inspired and I loved his history of fighting with the likes of Cade and Thomas Woodchurch. The moral dilemmas of the book gave the novel so many more layers and allowed a far deeper complexity than it otherwise would have had. Were the actions of Cade and his men right? Should Henry have thought more about the welfare of his Englishmen living on French soil? Is York really the best man for the job? And why on Earth don’t more people swallow their pride and listen to Derry when he so clearly has a better idea of what he’s on about? Basically, I loved it and I can’t wait to start ‘Trinity‘.

5-stars

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