by Conn Iggulden
(Wars of the Roses)
Set in England and France during the years after 1443, Stormbird is best described as an historical thriller. It has a large cast of characters, most of them real people, though the author, by his own admission, takes the odd liberty with them.
The novel’s main historical theme is the political rise of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, to a position of real power in England as Protector and Defender of the Realm. Henry VI is on the throne of England, but he is a weak king, sick both physically and mentally, keeping only a feeble hand on power through his able young wife, Margaret of Anjou, and his spymaster, Derry Brewer (fictional). The marriage of Henry and Margaret is ably negotiated by William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, and York’s enemy. An alliance between England and France after years of war seems a good idea, but the contract involves returning captured lands to the French crown, and the consequent expulsion of English families from properties they have occupied and farmed for decades.
Thousands return to England, angry and belligerent, many of them swelling the ranks of the malcontent in the south, led by the Kentish rebel Jack Cade. Meantime, while Queen Margaret does her best to protect Henry and support Suffolk, York is plotting the latter’s downfall on a charge of treason. Suffolk is brought before parliament, tortured and banished from England.
Cade leads his thousands-strong digruntled citizen’s army into the capital. They march across London Bridge and head for Westminster. Although their cause is a just one, the leaders lose control and the mob wreaks havoc on the city, destroying property, looting, killing the king’s soldiers and Londoners who get in their way.
In Stormbird, Iggulden tells a good story, even if, at times, he seems to dwell too much on the blood and mangled flesh. Of course, mediaeval war (probably all war) was like that, which means he writes it the way it was. The characters are well-drawn too and, whether accurate portrayals or not, are believable.
My only criticism is that the cast is very strongly biased towards the male side, which might confine the market for this otherwise excellent piece of fiction. Margaret of Anjou herself is very convincing, and I would have liked to see more of her but, apart from her, the other female characters in the main get only passing mention. I fear it is a realistic picture of history, and the status of women in it, however I prefer a better gender balance in this type of novel.