Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims (Kingmaker 1) by Toby Clements

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Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims (Kingmaker 1) by Toby Clements

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: More an adventure set against the War of the Roses than a hist-fict concentrating solely on it but that's not a criticism as we follow a young couple fleeing from frying pan to fire allowing us to witness the lower orders' 15th century.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 576 Date: February 2015
Publisher: Arrow
ISBN: 978-0099585879

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February 1460: Canon Thomas and Sister Katherine have always equated their priory with values like piety and safety. However when soldiers on horseback arrive this is proven to be a misconception and the two flee for their lives. This is the first time they've been in the outside world since childhood but soon realise there's more to it than they bargained for. It's naturally a dangerous place at any time but this is 15th century England - the War of the Roses is about to begin. Survival depends on worldly wisdom, something they don’t actually teach nuns or monks.

Daily Telegraph journalist and debut historical fiction novelist Toby Clements has spent his life preparing for this, the first in his 15th century Kingmaker trilogy. A school trip to Tewkesbury Abbey lit his interest in the era. In adult life there followed numerous weekends spent at re-enactment fairs which taught him how to fire a longbow, fight with a pole axe, start a fire with linen, flint and steel and even tan leather. (Although we won't go into that last one in too much detail!) This clearly means we have an author who can walk the walk as well as write the talk.

Although the trilogy may be named in honour of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick who was known for his political manoeuvring, the centrepiece is the story of two young people on the edge of a historic war and who then blunder into it. In fact the major historical characters of the War pass through as supporting cast to Katherine and Thomas. So if you'd like to get under the skin of Warwick and other mover and shaker the Earl of Salisbury, you may be a bit disappointed but this isn't bad news for the rest of us.

What Toby has done is to capture the feel and atmosphere of life for the everyday people whose contribution to history may have been lost despite being just as valid. These are folks like you or I would have been with a huge dose of adventure to garnish and tempt us onwards.

Toby has actually been very clever. Thomas and Katherine may be in the 15th century; however, they're not of it, having lived most of their lives in a priory (since the age of 5 for Katherine and 12 for Thomas). The priory was so enclosed and sheltered that the mores, thought and even food of the 1400s is alien to them. This makes them ideal guides for us readers, the total aliens. The other thing is that since Katherine has no idea how a 15th-century woman should behave, she can be her own unaffected self with some interesting results.

From the moment our heroes flee from certain death among the devout (talk about thrilling set-pieces!) they're flung from one adventure to another until they find themselves in a fight of a different level, surrounded by the death that they previously sought to escape. Thomas also discovers a side to him he'd rather have remained unknown as we witness the psychological effect of gory hand to hand combat. Meanwhile, Katherine and Thomas's nemesis still looms large.

Some readerly voices have mumbled about a few instances of repetitive detail but this is a debut and will be ironed out by experience; for me it certainly doesn't spoil the overall tale.

Kingmaker may not have the big-character-name historic depth of an Conn Iggulden or Elizabeth Fremantle but this doesn't matter as Toby is mining a hist-fict niche that, in side-lining the historical celebs, brings us the grassroots authenticity. In a way this is similar to the approach of Karen Maitland (but without her mystical leanings). Toby Clements has provides ripping action we can be absorbed by and relate to; a talent that many more experienced authors have yet to grasp.

(Thank you, Arrow, for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: The War of the Roses seems flavour of the month at the moment so there's plenty of hist fict for fans of past Yorkshire and Lancastrian arguments. Wars of the Roses: Stormbird (Wars of the Roses 1) by Conn Iggulden and The White Queen by Philippa Gregory are recommended for those who prefer fictionalised accounts whereas The Kingmaker's Sisters: Six Powerful Women in the Wars of the Roses by David Baldwin is highly recommended for those wanting to catch up on the factual.

Toby Clements' Kingmaker Novels in Chronological Order

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