(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
Wars of the Roses: the brand new historical series from Conn Iggulden – internationally best-selling author of the Emperor and Conqueror series.
King Henry V – the great Lion of England – is long dead.
In 1437, after years of regency, the pious and gentle Henry VI, the Lamb, comes of age and accedes to the English throne. His poor health and frailty of mind render him a weakling king -Henry depends on his closest men, Spymaster Derry Brewer and William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, to run his kingdom.
Yet there are those, such as the Plantagenet Richard, Duke of York, who believe England must be led by a strong king if she is to survive. With England’s territories in France under threat, and rumours of revolt at home, fears grow that Henry and his advisers will see the country slide into ruin. With a secret deal struck for Henry to marry a young French noblewoman, Margaret of Anjou, those fears become all too real.
As storm clouds gather over England, King Henry and his supporters find themselves besieged abroad and at home. Who, or what can save the kingdom before it is too late?
I have to say that Stormbird really takes place in the civil unrest that leads up to the official War of the Roses. It’s all about the weak rule of Henry VI sowing the seeds for discontent with the current regime and the rise of the Yorks as the sort of official opposition to the throne. So it really sets up the war and we see the beginning of it, but we haven’t really gotten into the period that’s the most famous yet.
With that little preamble out of the way, I have to say that I really did enjoy pretty much all of the characters in this book. They were all different in their own ways and they all had believable motivations and character arcs that made you want to know what happened to them. Margaret of Anjou, typically the scheming evil queen in most stories about the period, came off as a devoted wife who tried to do the best she could for her country. Henry VI is a pious, weak fool of course but he’s far more sympathetic than he’s usually portrayed, particularly during his descent into madness. Yet I’d have to say my favourite character was Derry Brewer, the Machiavellian spymaster who tries his best to find and thwart any plots against the regime. He’s a fascinating character and in some ways, I wish I had learned way more about him.
Oddly enough for Conn Iggulden, he manages to tell a good story (like with his Conqueror and Emperor series) but at the same time maintains a reasonable level of historical accuracy (unlike the two aforementioned series). I’ve never really taken his books seriously because although I enjoyed them, they were quite inaccurate, but at the end of Stormbird I actually felt like I had learned something. Lots of things in fact. I don’t know all that much about English history but I know the main War of the Roses period quite well. Except that Conn Iggulden brought to life the relatively obscure (in fiction at least) beginning of the war. He definitely deserves praise for that.
One of the strengths and conversely the downsides of Stormbird is the fact that it encompasses so many different events. You see things from Margaret of Anjou’s point of view as her marriage to Henry VI is being negotiated, you see the English rebellion against the French as their lands are being ceded, you’re at the forefront of the Jake Cade rebellion, etc. He gives us such a sweeping view of the period and really brings home the point that ordinary people at the time were affected adversely by the machinations of their lords. But in doing so, in trying to encompass such a wide range of events and times, Conn Iggulden also drops the ball occasionally. What I mean by that is he drags the plot on in some places (Margaret’s marriage negotiations) while neglecting some very interesting events. This tends to make the plot sag in the middle and even though it was a fascinating historical period, I had a really hard time slogging through it. That’s unfortunate because Stormbird is otherwise a pretty decent book.
So here we have a reasonably historically accurate take on an obscure period with fascinating character portrayals that are far from the mainstream portrayals. Conn Iggulden is an excellent storyteller and although the book does drag in the middle, overall the plot was fairly well paced.
I give this book 4/5 stars.