'A Bloody Field by Shrewsbury' details the beginning of the reign of Henry IV, the first of the three Henrys that are featured in this book. King Henry, formerly Henry of Bolingbroke, is masterfully personified, first as a wronged nobleman coming from exile to claim what is rightfully his. Then he adds to this what is not rightfully his and his character fails morally in attempts to defend himself. The next Henry is his son, referred to as Hal, the Prince of Wales who would later become Henry V. We see him develop from a serious boy into a thoughtful young man who can separate his feelings from decisions of state with eerie precision. Finally, Henry "Hotspur" Percy, heir to the earldom of Northumberland, jumps into everything he does with body and soul. He supports his friend, Henry IV, but is disillusioned by what kind of king he becomes.
Henry Percy is really the main character of this book, and he is characterized as the perfect knight, noble and pure. It's really a little too much sometimes. The history told here is accurate, so maybe he really was that idealistic and quick to fight for what he believed was right, regardless of his chances of success. I felt it was a very romantic personification and don't remember him ever doing or saying (or even thinking!) anything dishonorable.
It took me longer than usual to get through this book. I especially found myself dozing whenever Julian entered the scene. The pseudo-romance that goes on between her and Percy was just . . . odd. I could have completely done without her character and the story would have only improved, in my humble opinion. The writing style in this novel gets a little dry and verbose at times, but the last 30 pages made it worth it. The description of the battle at Shrewsbury was beautifully done, and I enjoyed the author's analysis of each Henry's motives and internal struggles going into it.
Though the style is complex and at times eye-glazing, it does give us beautiful excerpts like these:
"That he was born to the crown was a disaster for him and for England, and they have both suffered for it."
"Some, in very low voices and in trusted company, said that the judgment of God was sometimes miscalled the malice of the devil, by those who must pass off their devil as God."
"Do you think you can start a mountain sliding, and then halt it when you will?"
And my personal favorite (though I believe it is really just a very long sentence fragment):
"A field where the past had just received another mortal blow in its drawn out death, and the future had cast its forward shadow long and stark, the chilling image of battle after battle, treason after treason, change piled upon change, interminably reeling to and fro across the ruined crops and desolated hopes of peasant cultivators and tenant farmers, stamping their ripening peas and small human aspirations into the ground."
What a beautiful foreshadowing of the events that would be set into action by Henry IV's usurpation of the crown.
I thought this book would have benefited from some family trees and maps. Readers who are not familiar with the historical events surrounding this time period, as well as the branches of families involved, may get a little lost. Great historical accuracy and research in this, which I highly appreciated.