Wars of the Roses: Stormbird (Wars of the Roses 1) by Conn Iggulden

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Wars of the Roses: Stormbird (Wars of the Roses 1) by Conn Iggulden

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Another riveting 'hist fict' from a master hist fict riveter. If you feel that Philippa Gregory has the 15th century all sewn up with her Cousins' War series, you haven't read Stormbird.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 544 Date: October 2013
Publisher: Michael Joseph
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0718159832

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England in 1437: Henry VI is now old enough to take the throne after the untimely death of his father 15 years earlier. However 'The Lamb' (as young Henry is known) doesn't take after his robust, dominant father as enemies and allies alike are wont to mention. Religiously devout, peace-loving and often ill, Henry VI relies on his right-hand men to take the load. While a privileged role for people like William de la Pole (Duke of Suffolk) and spymaster Derry Brewster, it's also very dangerous. They're the final line of defence before the King can be toppled and not all the malevolent powers are beyond the English Channel. A lot of hope is pinned on Henry's marriage to Margaret of Anjou healing the rifts but unfortunately there are unforeseen effects. The bird that foreshadows great storms is in flight.

London-born author Conn Iggulden is right up there next to Bernard Cornwell if you fancy an excellent historical fiction series. Conn's already treated us to The Conqueror, a series based on Genghis Khan and his dynasty as well as Emperor (a series based on Ancient Rome and my initiation to his writing) and now he is going the way of the 15th century English monarchy.

Philippa Gregory has made quite a splash in this direction with her Cousins' War novels, TV drama and documentary series. However, even if this has left you feeling War-of-the-Rosesed out, Conn makes it all feel agreeably different from Philippa's female-line angle and I speak as a fan of each.

I know it's a no-brainer but this feels so different from Dr Gregory's offering as we're following different characters and, as always in historical fiction, it's seasoned by the author's standpoint to a greater or lesser degree. As Conn's story baton passes from person to person (all third person narratives for those who aren't keen on 'firsts') we find that we don't only engage with them, we side with them even while they oppose each other.

I love the double act of William de la Pole and the quirky Derry Brewster as much as I admire the stout-hearted Thomas Woodchurch and, indeed, Jack Cade. Each has justifiable reasons for acting as they did and Conn doesn't judge, he just narrates leaving the morals of the situation to us.

Real William Pole and fictional Derry are presented to us as men working with Henry VI's good name at heart rather than power-grabbing opportunists (an alternative view that may find favour elsewhere) as their liege lord left them to their own devices.

Jack Cade on the other hand is anarchic but justifiably so; the state has done him a tragic disservice. (If his name's not familiar please don't research before you read as it will ruin a great twist.) Meanwhile Thomas sits in the middle: an ex-English-army archer, his loyalty taking a huge knock when the connotations of Henry and Margaret's marriage and peace treaty are revealed.

There is much gore and some earthy language adding to the authenticity. Speaking of which, as in all great historic fiction, we're provided with some great notes at the back making us aware of the line between fact and supposition. For instance while Derry didn't exist, Henry will still have employed a spymaster and Conn explains his author's logic in the way he wrote the role. We're also told that 'The War of the Roses' is a name that the Tudors invented for the conflict later, only one side having a rose as their main dynastic symbol at that stage.

In Stormbird we're taken from Henry's rise to power (such as it is) to his demise. Henry VI may be a spent force by the end of this first volume of the series but Conn is just getting started and I'm already looking forward to continuing the journey.

I'd like to thank Michael Joseph for providing us with a copy for review.

If you've enjoyed this and would like to read more about this turbulent time, we recommend The White Queen by Philippa Gregory (of course) and Virgin Widow by Anne O'Brien both authors providing us with their take on what Conn will present us with next but the viewpoints are so different they shouldn't spoil anything.

Conn Iggulden's Wars of the Roses Novels in Chronological Order

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Buy Wars of the Roses: Stormbird (Wars of the Roses 1) by Conn Iggulden at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Wars of the Roses: Stormbird (Wars of the Roses 1) by Conn Iggulden at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Wars of the Roses: Stormbird (Wars of the Roses 1) by Conn Iggulden at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Wars of the Roses: Stormbird (Wars of the Roses 1) by Conn Iggulden at Amazon.com.


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