First of the Tudors by Joanna Hickson

Jasper and Edmund Tudor are half brothers to king Henry IV, their parents being queen Catherine Of Valois and the Welsh squire Owen Tudor. But Henry is in need of people he can trust and he brings his brothers to court and bestows an earldom on them both. Edmund is also given the wardship of the young heiress Margaret Beaufort and Jasper is tasked with keeping the Welsh border safe. When Edmund marries Margaret, Jasper falls for his Welsh niece Jane (Sian) Hywel. But the death of his brother grants him a lifelong task: keeping his young nephew Henry, with a taint of royal blood, safe. And during the Wars of the Roses that proves quite a challenge.

Joanna Hickson guarantees a solid historical novel with respect for the historical facts. She always intertwines a real historical figure with a fictional perspective. In this book we meet Jasper Tudor and his fictional Welsh niece Jane Hywel. I could immediately relate to Jane, as was the case with Mette in her Catherine of Valois books. I was happily surprised to meet Mette and her family again at the beginning of this book.

This book is about the Wars and the Roses as much as any other set in this time period but it was the first time I read about Jasper Tudor’s involvement. Also, we get a fair insight into the Welsh customs and politics at the time, which I didn’t know a lot about beforehand. It’s weird to think of the Tudors as ‘the winning dynasty’ if you look where they started at the beginning of the conflict.

I in particular liked Jasper’s relationship with his brother the king. The Henry IV in this book felt real. Jasper might be a bit too soft represented at times. He’s the perfect brother, lover, friend…. Betrayed at the battlefield a few times. But he also needed to make hard choices, his allegiance with Warwick is a perfect example of that.

I found the representation of Margaret Beaufort interesting. Compared with other books, were she’s portrayed as a bad and too pious woman, she was more balanced and mysterious in First of the Tudors. I’m curious to see how her character will develop as Hickson’s next novel ‘The Tudor Crown’ will feature Margaret and her son Henry as main characters. But luckily Hickson has promised that we will also see more of Jasper, Jane and their daughters.

The ending might come a bit sudden, but I think it was no bad choice to stop at this particular point during the Wars of The Roses. There will be a lot more trouble ahead for Lancaster and Tudor, and I’m looking forward to read about these events in The Tudor crown. Highly recommended!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Have you read anything by Joanna Hickson? Any other recommendations about Jasper Tudor?

Winter pilgrims by Toby Clemens

After some dramatic events in the cold winter snow, Catherine and Thomas both have to leave their secluded monastery in Lincoln on the run for Giles Riven, a local lord with the power to crush them. They don’t know each other and have no clue about the current wars going on outside between the houses of Lancaster and York. The dukes of York and Warwick have just lost the last battle and Warwick’s army is gathering in Calais. By accident, Catherine and Thomas end up there and they join the retinue of Sir John Fakenham and his son Richard. This new alliance will lead them to the battlefields of Northampton and Towton.

Winter pilgrims is the first book in the kingmaker series about two commoners during the Wars of the Roses. 15th century England always makes for a nice setting, but this book doesn’t focus on the kings, queens and politics. It’s about a young man and woman trying to survive and make sense of all this. In that way, it reminded of me of Ken Follett’s approach in his Kingsbridge series.

There’s also a huge focus on some famous battles, so that you can compare Clemens to Iggulden or Cornwell. His battle scenes are gruesome, bloody and confusing. Just as any soldier would have experienced it. Especially the brutality and confusion of the battle at Towton comes alive at the end of the novel.

Winter pilgrims opens fast, setting the scene for the rest of the story. The cliches of a monk turning into a warrior and a nun into a nurse is something that should be overlooked. Another cliche is the evil arch enemy that haunts them during the book. This is foremost an adventure novel with nice characters that you get used to very quickly (only to see them murdered afterwards :D), the plot comes in second. And I’m ok with that because the story certainly was entertaining.

It’s also a book clearly written as the first part in a series. A lot of plot lines are started, but aren’t yet touched in much detail in this book. The end is abrupt and leaves some questions unanswered. The writing is in first person tense, and although that’s a bit strange, it didn’t bother me that much. I liked the focus on the common men and the battles. So, I believe I’m curious enough to read the next book ‘Broken faith’.

Clemens is no Cornwell and this novel was maybe a bit too heavy in pages with an unbelievable plot at some times. But if you’re up for an adventure during this fascinating period, Winter pilgrims will provide you with exactly that.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Do you have a favourite book set during the Wars of the Roses? Do you like to read an adventure novel?