Sons of York: Volume 2 (The Sprigs of Broom) by Lesley J Nickell

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Sons of York: Volume 2 (The Sprigs of Broom) by Lesley J Nickell

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: The second of Lesley J Nickell's posthumously re-published Wars of the Roses Springs of Broom trilogy switches viewpoint to a commoner. Not so intensely packed as Book 1 making it a lighter, better read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 312 Date: September 2015
Publisher: Mereo Books
ISBN: 978-1861514608

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15th Century London: Through a quirk of fate young widow Janet Evershed finds herself running her late husband's cloth business, far from her York home. It's in this very shop that she meets Richard Neville, Duke of Warwick and his ward Edward, Earl of March. They may be much higher than commoner Janet but she has caught Edward's eye and what Edward wants, he gets, be it a woman or, indeed, the crown of England.

This is the second in Lesley J Nickell's Sprigs of Broom series republished since the author's death in 2013. The first novel The White Queen of Middleham featured Anne Neville, Warwick the Kingmaker's daughter and eventual wife of Richard III. This second book runs parallel with the first in terms of chronology but there are enough differences to make two novels over the same time period in the same trilogy seem like a good idea.

The first difference is the way it's written. The White Queen… is packed with information which renders it high in the words-per-inch quotient. I enjoyed its factoids and the story, although it did feel intense at times. This second novel is a much lighter read without dumbing down, making it more accessible and therefore promising it a wider audience. The second difference is viewpoint.

Book 1 is written from the view of the aristocracy. Warwick had always planned to marry his children off strategically and so from an early age Anne was a royal insider even before she was old enough to understand what that meant. Whereas Janet is definitely unprepared to be thrust into the limelight being a 'commoner' albeit a comparatively comfortable and unorthodox one.

After the death of Janet's husband a little while after their one, less than successful night together (no, not the reason he died!) Janet refuses to accede to her father's wish for her to remarry. Understandably for that era, he's happy for her to dabble in trade but feels the business needs a man's name and guidance. Janet has no such qualms and is happy to be independent… till struck by love and the appearance of the soon to be Edward IV.

By all accounts Edward is historically a nasty piece of work which, putting it in context, may have been a necessity to retain the throne. Yet this side of him is totally separate from the man Janet falls in love with. She herself remarks how he seems to be a different person around her.

Besides Edward's dark side there are other things that Janet isn't a party to being a woman. In common with Anne in the first instalment, she must depend on reports of battles and viewing the aftermath. Since this novel begins around the time of the Battle of Towton and goes on to the demise of the Kingmaker himself, that's quite a few battles. Although, to be honest, Janet's story is so engagingly written, I didn't miss them as I wanted to stay with Janet rather than wander off to the battle field. That's testimony to Lesley's writing as anyone will tell you that's very unlike me normally!

Gradually we learn why Sons of York is so named. Janet's life is affected and caught up with each of the then contemporary York royals: Edward, Richard III and the two princes of 'in the Tower' fame. In fact during the latter story line Lesley leaves accepted versions of the mystery and puts a fictionalised hypothesis together regarding the two boys' fate. This along with her take on Perkin Welbeck, the mysterious man who, with the backing of Margaret of Anjou, later pretends to be one of the princes (and then the other!) is wonderful. In this way she totally circumnavigates the possibility of history becoming its own spoiler and we're kept on the edge of our seats till the outcome is revealed, causing tears that are oblivious to an open office during lunch hour situation… unless that's just me?

This is definitely a good read for the lovers of historical fiction and others who may just enjoy a ripping good story. Not only is it enthralling but it sidesteps historical stereotypes to show us the humanity behind the men, women and children in a riveting, entertaining way. Definitely the sort of book that cosy, dark evenings were made for.

A huge thank you to Mereo for providing us with a copy for review.

Further Reading: Although this book does work well as a stand-alone, [[The White Queen of Middleham provides that excellent alternative view. If you'd like to understand more about of Edward IV we recommend Edward IV: Glorious Son of York by Jeffrey James. If you'd prefer to stick with fiction, The White Queen by Philippa Gregory and Virgin Widow by Anne O'Brien allow us to spend more time with 'The witch' Elizabeth Woodville and Anne Neville respectively.

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