Montfort: The Early Years; The Viceroy; The Revolutionary; The Angel with the Sword

Written by Katherine Ashe
Review by Steve Donoghue

When reading through the ample “historical context” notes that follow each volume of Katherine Ashe’s utterly remarkable tetralogy of novels based on the life of 13th-century warrior-statesman Simon de Montfort, one thing becomes obvious: she could easily have produced the most authoritative English-language biography of her subject ever written. She is consummately familiar with every detail of Montfort’s life: his scandalous marriage, his troubled relationship with King Henry III, his summoning of the first elected parliament; and yet she’s chosen to present that life in four historical novels rather than in a long, footnoted monograph. Surely she herself gives us the reason when, in one of her notes, she mentions that “actual events can be far more odd than one would write in fiction.” These novels are full of actual events—the research is resoundingly complete—but they brim with life as well, as they follow Simon and his family and his beloved from France to England and back; as Simon becomes first close friend and then suspected enemy of King Henry, who becomes a person who can confirm Simon as Earl of Leicester with one hand and hound him out of the country with the other. These are wonderfully assured novels, on every page of which Ashe’s dramatic sense brings the era to vibrant life in a way no history could. A massive achievement, highly recommended. ($12.99, $12.99, $17.99, and $19.99)