Succession by Livi Michael

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Succession by Livi Michael

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: The events leading up to the War of the Roses with a twist: it's told with snapshots of the key characters' moments seasoned with contemporary accounts from Chronicles. Great idea, well executed – no pun intended… much!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: June 2014
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 978-0241146248

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15 year old Margaret of Anjou is brought to England to marry King Henry VI, little realising she'll rule in his stead in all but name. Then little 3-year-old Margaret Beaufort marries John de la Pole, son of the Duke of Suffolk. This is the first of three marriages she'll embark on by the time she's 14, one of which will produce a king and all will produce suffering. The War of the Roses and the Tudor dynasty are both waiting in the wings; these are the women who will raise the curtain.

British author Livi Michael has been writing professionally since 2007 and is diverse in her choice of subjects. This diversity has resulted in eleven children's books and five for adults. Each has been triggered by a moment of inspiration be it a pet hamster (for Frank and the Black Hamster of Narkiz) or angels on Manchester cathedral's ceiling providing us with this, the rather clever Succession.

Yes, angels on the ceiling. (I can see your puzzlement from here.) It becomes logical when we realise that the angels were donated by Margaret Beaufort and triggered a fascination that led to a hist-fict novel that's stylistically different.

As Livi explained when she came in to see us to talk about Succession, the story Livi presents isn't the usual flowing narrative but then it's not meant to be. In its place we have something rather refreshing. The chapters work similarly to short fly-on-the-wall TV scenes. We spend a little while with one person, and then move to another location, situation and conversation. Each chapter is tailed and sometimes topped with an extract from a contemporary chronicle (the political commentary blogs of their time).

The chronicles, although transcribed accurately by Livi, should be taken with the same salt dosage that political partisan writing is swallowed with today but they do show an incredible insight into the opinions of the age. People who are lauded one moment become iniquitous further on as they fall out of royal favour, proving that tall poppy syndrome isn't a modern invention.

The other joy of these accounts is the way in which Livi uses them. They aren't only there to prove a point or add colour. Although accomplishing both those things, Livi also uses them to further the plot and, in some cases, to shrewdly provide teasers.

The historical characters we're shown are how we hist-fict fans gleefully remember them. Margaret of Anjou's confidence grows with her years and power, her personality changing once she realises that her beloved Henry VI is more of a pray-er (and a lousy judge of character) than a fighter. Margaret Beaufort transforms from compliant pawn to passionate young woman and then arch-plotter in order to ensure her son gets the crown she feels he deserves. Indeed, if you wanted to pick a wife who happily spends her days smiling compliantly while stitching wall tapestries, neither of these would be your first choice.

My favourite personage of the era, the Duke of Suffolk, is also around for a short while again demonstrating the sarcastic sense of humour Conn Iggulden introduced us to. Where two hist-fict authors agree, it must be so.

We aren't spoon fed by foregone conclusions though; Livi wants us to use our judgement. There are little questions left hanging for our consideration. For instance, was Henry VI capable of impregnating his consort and if it wasn't him…?

There are moments in which we linger longer such as during Margaret Beaufort's peri-natal confinement which may be how some of you prefer your narrative? Speaking personally, although I love the short-sketch-and-chronicle set up, due to its nature some key moments are distant glimmers rather than centrally witnessed. For instance the uprising led by Jack Cade/John Mortimer is reported rather than seen, although acknowledged as a manifestation of royal unpopularity.

I have a suggestion then: perhaps we should consider Succession as a valuable companion volume to books like Conn's Stormbird (Wars of the Roses 1)? In this way we don't miss out on the way in which the voices of history are brought to us by Livi while we also weave it into the bigger picture.

For me the addition of the chronicles is an inspired idea, intriguing as it enriches. The trouble is that it's also made me rather greedy for more!

(Thank you to the good people at Penguin for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: Apart from Wars of the Roses: Stormbird (Wars of the Roses 1) by Conn Iggulden? Then why not try Virgin Widow by Anne O'Brien which takes the War of the Roses that bit further on via Anne Neville, daughter of Kingmaker Warwick. If you'd like to sample one of Livi's children's books, look no further than Faerie Heart.

Buy Succession by Livi Michael at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Succession by Livi Michael at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Succession by Livi Michael at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Succession by Livi Michael at Amazon.com.


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