Stormbird is the first book in Conn Iggulden’s Wars of the Roses series. I have to confess to never having read a Conn Iggulden book before despite being told by many people how good they are. My partner loves him but I’m more interested in history from the medieval period onwards and Iggulden’s other books are more ancient history. This series though is most definitely my era.
So the novel begins with Henry VI on the thrones of England and France but all is not well. England needs a truce with France at any cost. This desperate need for a truce leads to the marriage between Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou and England giving Maine and Anjou back to France as part of the treaty leading to many unhappy Englishmen.
The character of Derry Brewer, ex-soldier and spy master to the king, is an interesting one. I felt it allowed William de la Pole to be a more sympathetic character than he has been in both the history books and historical fiction. It takes the responsibility away from him and puts it in Brewer’s hands and when he is killed we feel sorry for him. We are also told that Henry VI has no involvement in the plot apart from wanting the truce in the first place.
It was interesting to read a novel that champions people usually treated unsympathetically and makes villains of the traditional good guys. Margaret of Anjou is portrayed as a caring woman doing all she can to protect her husband. She is a much more sympathetic character inthan she has been in any other novel I have read with her in it. Iggulden also makes you feel really sorry for Henry VI. Richard and Cicely of York, on the other hand, are horrible, horrible people. The majority of novels you pick up about the Wars of the Roses paint York as a man just trying to save his kingdom, doing his duty for his country. Yes, he’s a bit haughty and self-important but he’s working for England not himself. It was refreshing to see a different side. I’m looking forward to seeing how the characters of Richard and Margaret develop in the next book. I have a feeling things may change.
The only issue I have with the novel, and it is a very small issue, is that the inclusion of the story about the Jewish moneylender being arrested and then flayed alive was strange. It didn’t seem to serve any purpose at all apart from making Richard of York seem like a vile human being. Iggulden does cite a source in his Historical Note so apparently this did take place but it just didn’t seem relevant to the rest of the book and had no relevance to the plot. It’s a small complaint and doesn’t stop this being a great novel.
I would thoroughly recommend this to history and historical fiction lovers. The detail is great. A great book by a great writer.