Divided Souls by Toby Clemens

In this third book, we meet Thomas and Catherine five years after the events of the second novel. They live in peace and harmony at Marton Hall with their son Rufus and friends Jack and John Stump. But the peace will not hold for long. The Duke of Warwick turns against Edward IV and is looking for the secret of which Thomas and Catherine have proof. And he sends none other than Edmund Riven, their arch-enemy, on a quest to find it.

1469 is a strange year in the Wars of the Roses. The mysterious figure Robin of Redesdale fights against the king and it is said he has the support of the earl of Warwick. There are a number of battles in which some key figures, such as the earl of Pembroke, are eliminated. Warwick and the king quarrel, but do not meet. And at the end of the year the realm is strangely enough at peace again.

That must have been hard to understand for the common man, who is again dragged into a conflict that is not his. It’s the strength of this series. No focus on the big earls, kings and queens, but on the commoners who are trying to survive in troubled times.

And my God, Thomas and Catherine get themselves once again in trouble. A few of the same tropes are brought out and the book is, of course, somewhat predictable. But I liked it better than the second part. The events lead to a thrilling conclusion inside a tower of Middleham castle.

Divided souls‘ is a nice read and gives a different perspective on history. This is not the best series I will ever read, but I am looking forward to the fourth part to find out how it ends with Thomas, Catherine, Rufus and all those Johns.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Have you read this series? What book are you currently reading?

The Tudor crown by Joanna Hickson

After the battle of Tewkesbury, Jasper and his cousin Henry Tudor have to flee England. While King Edward IV of the House of York sits firmly on his throne, they wash up on the coast of Brittany, where they plot their return for 14 years. Meanwhile, Henry’s mother Margaret Beaufort must look for a third husband and therefore becomes lady-in-waiting to Edward’s stunning queen Elizabeth. However, she will continue to fight for her son’s return as a duke, or who knows, even as king.

I really loved Hickson’s previous book ‘First of The Tudors‘ where she tells the story of Jasper Tudor. The Tudor crown starts after the events at Tewkesbury where the previous novel ended. This time the story is told from the point of view of Henry Tudor himself and his mother Margaret Beaufort. So the book is very pro Lancaster and anti York.

I never read about Henry’s exile before and this is yet another new perspective on the Wars of the Roses. I may not have found Henry to be Hickson’s best fleshed out main character so far, but I did find it fascinating to read about the intrigues at the courts of Brittany and France. It’s just a pity that Jasper and Jane, whom I loved dearly in the previous book, quickly fade into the background.

Margaret is portrayed as very human and even sympathetic. Her chapters tell a piece of history I know well. Yet I was surprised by Hickson’s portrayal of both Elizabeth Woodville and her daughter Elizabeth of York. We know that Margaret has been plotting with Woodville against Richard III for a long time, but in this book the queen has a lot of trust in Margaret, and I don’t quite imagine it that way. Margaret also seems to build up a good relationship with Elizabeth of York, whereas a few years later she will make her future daughter-in-law’s life difficult. So I found it a bit confusing that especially Richard III came forward as the bad one and both Elizabeths were looking so kindly at the only remaining Lancaster players at court.

I thought the ending with the Battle of Bosworth was well done. The focus is not on the battle itself but heavily focuses on the run-up to it. It was very nice to get to know Joan Vaux, the main character in Hickson’s next two books. That really is a gift: all her books flow seamlessly into each other and she manages to choose a new perspective that fits into the story every time. As a faithful reader, it gets an extra dimension that way, because you still encounter ‘old’ beloved characters.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Have you read anything by Joanna Hickson? What’s your favourite novel about the Tudor family?

Broken faith by Toby Clemens

Note: This is the second part in a series, so the short description might include hints about how things ended in the first part, Winter pilgrims.

After the bloody battle of Towton, Edward IV sits on the English throne. Catherine, mourning Thomas, has married Richard Fakenham under the disguise of Margaret Cronford. But when the whole village turns against her, she is locked again at Haverhurst Priory. Thomas, returned from the death, and Catherine now have to run for their lives as an old enemy returns to their doorstep. Bearing proof of a royal secret, they travel to the north where the Lancastrians are waiting to fight for their rightful king Henry VI.

This is the second part in the kingmaker series. Winter Pilgrims ended at Towton, so I though the next battle would be Barnet, but I was wrong. This book is set in the years after Towton (1463-1464) when there are some small battles in the north between Lancaster and York. Lancaster was occupying castles such as Bamburgh and Alnwick, while Margaret of Anjou and her son were living as exiles in France to force alliances. I have never read before about the Battles of Hedgeley Moor and Evesham, especially not from a Lancastrian view, so I liked this perspective.

But the beginning of the story is a mess. Catherine and Thomas need to get together again and for that Clemens invents some unbelievable story lines. The story only picks up after discovering the secret in the ledger. Although I was a bit disappointed as to what the secret contained. It always comes down to the same ‘secret’ in every novel about this period it seems. The pair decides to travel to the north, Catherine once again in the disguise of Kit. We meet some new characters along the way: Jack, John Stump and master Payne.

Although this is part of the Kingmaker series, we don’t actually meet Warwick or any of the other Yorkists. We do get Henry VI and John Beaufort, the earl of Somerset, but they are more secondary characters. Of course, the Rivens are back to haunt Thomas and Catherine. We also learn more about the medical knowledge at the time. The ending is great, but the whole plot felt like an in-between story. There are still two more books to come in this series and I’m curious to see where they will take our two main characters next.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The last daughter by Nicola Cornick

Eleven years ago, Serena’s half sister Caitlin disappeared between the old ruins of Minster Lovell Hall. Unfortunately, Serena can’t remember anything from that night. Then suddenly Caitlin’s body is found during archeological research in strange circumstances. Serena travels back to Oxfordshire determined to uncover the truth. In the fifteenth century, Anne Fitzhugh is betrothed to Francis Lovell, a close friend to Richard of Gloucester. She discovers the existence of an ancient old relic, the Lovell lodestar, which is said to have magical powers.

I was happy to get the chance to read ‘The last daughter‘ as it was my introduction to Nicola Cornick’s work. She is known for her dual timeline novels with an interesting historical perspective and a bit of magical or science fiction elements woven into the story.

The novels opens in our century when Serena receives a call from the police while on a visit to her aunt Polly in America. The remains of her missing twin sister have been found, close to the place where Caitlin disappeared all those years ago. Minster Lovell Hall is a medieval manor, where her grandparents lived and Serena and her sister spent their holidays. Her grandfather Dick is suffering from dementia and has moved to an elderly home. Their house has been sold and is now a tourist museum. Serena travels to Lovell Hall to see if she can remember anything from that dreadful night.

The historical timeline is told from Anne Fitzhugh whose mother was a Neville, brother to Richard Neville, earl of Warwick and kingmaker. Her parents become involved in the rebellion against Edward IV and Anne is married to Francis Lovell, one of Warwicks wardens. Francis is a close friend to Richard of York, the king’s younger brother. As you can tell, we’re in the middle of the Wars of the Roses so Anne and Francis will be in much trouble.

The whole mystery surrounds around Minster Lovell Hall, Francis’ family home. It is said it contains a so called ‘lodestar’ that can make you fall through time. We learn about the story of the mistletoe bride who disappeared on her wedding night and of course Francis Lovell himself vanishes after the battle of Stoke field.

I did like both perspectives, but I think I enjoyed Anne’s most. It’s set in one of my favorite periods and I believe Francis Lovell is a great main character to depict the events as he was in the midst of it all as Richard’s closest friend and advisor. However, when the story progresses towards the disappearance of the princes in the Tower, I had my doubts about the plot. In one chapter, Anne and Francis are against the princes, proclaiming them as bastards. In the next, they try to protect them together with Elizabeth Woodville. This felt a bit artificial.

I also enjoyed the magical elements and legends surrounding the lodestar. This is a light read and the focus isn’t really on the history but rather on the mystery surrounding all the disappearances and especially Caitlin’s. I’m sure I’ll pick up one of Cornick’s earlier works now.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.

This is book 9 for #20booksofsummer.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Have you read anything by Nicola Cornick?

Cecily by Annie Garthwaite

Cecily Neville is a highbred noblewoman and a distant family member of the weak king Henry VI via her Beaufort mother. She’s married to Richard, earl of York, whose father was executed as a traitor under Henry V because he had a claim to the throne. But the loss of France in the Hundred Years War, the bad choice of his advisors and the inability to provide an heir for the throne makes Henry unpopular with his nobles. Richard and Cecily must choose to stand with him or risk everything (their position, family and life) and start a rebellion.

Cecily Neville is one of those perfect female perspectives to talk about the Wars of the Roses. She experienced the conflict from the beginning to the very end. This makes her a popular main character. I already read about her in ‘Red rose, white rose’ by Joanne Hickson (I loved it!) and recently Anne ‘O Brien published ‘The queen’s rival’ which I haven’t read yet. Annie Garthwaite is a new voice in historical fiction and I was curious to see what she would do with Cecily’s story.

The books opens with the burning of Joan d’Arc. King Henry VI is on the throne and the Wars of the Roses still seem far away. It’s always interesting to discover which starting point an author takes for this complex conflict. It’s certainly so that one of England’s greatest triumphs in the Hundred Years War can be seen as the beginning of the end for England in France.

This also means that two third of the book is set before the first battle and I liked that. I’ve read so many times about the Wars itself that we tend to forget the period before it where the seeds of the conflict are planted. We follow Richard and Cecily to France and Ireland. Learn more about the key advisors around the king that caused unrest. About the different fractions and the difficult family ties. The story really focuses on Henry VI reign and I definitely learned some new things.

We get an insight into the relationship between Cecily and Richard. She bore him twelve children. Seven would survive and make great marriages. Two would become king. Cecily is set as a formidable and highly intelligent woman who is a central character in the political game and a true advisor to her husband. I understand this feministic choice and I do believe that Cecily was a smart and cunning woman. However, this forces Richard into a more passive and weak role. Towards the end, Cecily even loathes him for it. This irritated me a bit.

You also learn about Cecily’s family (her mother, uncle and brother), her relationship with Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Isabel of Burgundy and of course queen Margaret of Anjou. I really appreciated that Garthwaite chose a human Margaret of Anjou which can’t have been easy when you write from the perspective of her enemy. Margaret is so demonized during history, I’m still waiting on a book from her viewpoint (let me know if you know of such a book).

The writing is bit rational and descriptive. For me, it lacked some emotion to really get me involved in the characters. I also would have liked to read from different perspectives. Cecily was so strong a character, that she needed to stay strong even in times of peril. I wasn’t engaged in this book as I was with First of the Tudors (both books cover more or less the same period but from a total different viewpoint).

Still, I would recommend ‘Cecily‘ to every history buff or to people who want to discover the early days of the Wars of the Roses.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.

This is book 4 for #20booksofsummer.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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?