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Carpe Librum

Reviews and bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.

If I am lost, you will find me in medieval England.

You can also find me - and my books - on my blog.

Historical Novel Society

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Review: Stormbird (Wars of the Roses #1) by Conn Iggulden

Stormbird - Conn Iggulden

This was one of my most anticipated books to read this year, and it did not disappoint.

I have never read a Wars of the Roses novel that was so complete in its description of why battle actually broke out. Beginning with a prologue that placed Edward III on his death bed, surrounded by his three remaining sons, Iggulden sets the stage for family drama. Throughout the novel, as Richard of York makes his quiet play for power, the words of Edmund of Langley to his brother John of Gaunt echo through the reader's mind. "Have you thought, John, that there is just a boy now between you and the crown? If it weren't for dear little Richard, you would be king tomorrow."


Rather than taking the simplified approach that strong, ambitious Richard of York wrested power from a weak, timid King Henry VI, the author details the events leading up to Richard becoming Protector and Defender of the Realm. Richard is not a central character, but he is always seen lurking around the edges, making sure that things turn out the way that he has planned.


The focus is split between Margaret of Anjou, fictional Derry Brewer, and Thomas Woodchurch who eventually joins the Jack Cade rebellion. The reader learns about the various aspects of Henry VI's downfall through each of these characters.


Margaret is written in a way that enabled me to feel some sympathy for her for the first time. As a fourteen year old bride, she cares for and ambitiously defends her young, ill husband. Though other authors have attempted to build her character as something other than a she-wolf who tormented England with foreign troops, this is the first time I started believing that history may have treated her too harshly.


Derry Brewer is a creative invention of Iggulden's. This character is developed as a mastermind behind Henry's plans but with no real power of his own. How he came to be so devoted to the king or in such personal service is not really explained, but he does his best to defend those York has marked as enemies, including William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, and King Henry himself.


Through Tom Woodchurch's character the reader is shown the true effects of Henry and Margaret's marriage truce that allowed Anjou and Maine to revert back to France. The complete devastation of the English living in these territories never even seemed to be a consideration to those playing with lives as if they were pieces on a chess board. Tom's path intersects with Jack Cade's, allowing another point of view to be told. How was this unknown man able to rally thousands of troops to march on London?


With so much going wrong in England, Henry's months-long mental lapse was all the opening Richard of York needed. With his own royal blood giving him just as much right to the throne as Henry, his ability to rule made him the obvious choice to those looking for a leader. Still his success comes across a little more like the rise of Darth Vader than a savior for the kingdom.


I am looking forward to reading more of Iggulden's detailed view of the Wars of the Roses in the sequel, Trinity.