There is no romance at the heart of war. Conn Iggulden captures this sentiment perfectly in his latest novel, Stormbird (Wars of the Roses). The medieval period is often glamorized as a period of chivalry and romance in many films and novels, so I was relieved when Iggulden did not fall into this typical cliche. His writing is more in the vein of Bernard Cornwell with a gritty, realistic approach to what it was actually like to live through this turbulent period of English history. Granted he does take some liberalities with the history, but remember this is historical fiction not a biography, and he does point out these areas in the historical note.
Stormbird is the first novel in a new series planned by Iggulden. The book opens with a marriage alliance between King Henry VI of England and Margaret of Anjou, a young French noblewoman, in hopes of easing the hostilities between England and France. As part of the alliance, England agrees to return a portion of territories captured back to France. This agreement is manipulated by Henry’s closest advisers, Derry Brewer the spymaster (a fictional character) and Duke William of Suffolk. This truce enrages many of the powerful English nobles, including Richard, Duke of York, and they plot to overthrow the timid Henry from his throne. Also beneath this chaos grows the seeds of rebellion from the lower class who are tired of the nobility suppressing their freedoms. The leader of this rebellion is Jack Cade, and he has plans to march on London.
Chaos. Betrayal. Corruption. Tactical diplomacy. War. These are the words that best describe England and France during the medieval period, and Iggulden does not fail to deliver. It was a brutal period of history in which to live, and it is felt in the setting that the author depicts. Iggulden does a nice job moving between the various plot points and points of view. The pacing is good. I do wish the characters were a little more fleshed out, but hopefully that will come in the subsequent books. Though it would not have been historical accurate, it would have added some additional tension to have William of Suffolk and Margaret of Anjou in a secret relationship, as there seemed to be something there between them when they first met. Since the relationship between Margaret and King Henry was rather bland, this element — though I admit may be cliche and falls risk to romanticizing the period if done incorrectly — could have created an extra layer for readers that seemed to be missing.
Overall, I’d rate Stormbird 4 out of 5 stars. I hope to see a return of many of these characters in the next novel.
About the author:
Conn Iggulden is one of the most successful authors of historical fiction writing today. His previous series, on Julius Caesar and on the Mongol Khans of Central Asia, describe the founding of two of the greatest empires in history. Now, with Stormbird, he plunges readers into one of the most bloody and brutal periods in history, when two rival branches of one royal English family threw their country into a devastating, decades-long civil war. Iggulden lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and children.
Within the week, I should be offering a book giveaway for one free copy of Stormbird. Details to come later, so check back with my site soon. Also, I plan to post a Q&A interview from the author later in the week.