First of the Tudors

Written by Joanna Hickson
Review by Tom Graham

It is no surprise that Wars of the Roses novelists are drawn to Jasper Tudor, for while his life story is dominated by a romantic and unwavering loyalty to the Lancastrian cause, at the same time there are enough unknowns for an author to have lots of fun filling them. It also helps that his surname is instantly recognisable, and his first name is achingly 2016-hipster-cool. Joanna Hickson’s novel takes us from Jasper’s youth to the Readeption of Henry VI, with the usual colourful cast of Wars of the Roses figures making their standard appearances. The tone is romantic and sweeping, and the author has an experienced eye for the two or three period details that will evoke a scene, rather than swamping the reader with her extensive research.

Hickson’s Jasper is honest, steadfast, and dutiful—all admirable qualities, but some readers may yearn for more dramatic tension. For example, Hickson chooses to give Jasper a leading role at the crucial battle of St. Albans (which is perfectly plausible), but then skims over the affair in the space of a few pages. The most memorable scenes in the novel are those where lovers meet in a moonlit vale, or watch from a cliff as the sun sets over the Welsh sea. Readers already familiar with the period will not find much new here, save for one startlingly bold exception. Hickson delves deeply into the relationship that both Tudor brothers (Jasper and Edmund) have with Edmund’s child-bride, Margaret Beaufort, and portrays it by turns to have been chivalrous, selfish, emotional, and sexual. These parts of the novel are uncomfortable and challenging, and will make readers reflect on many aspects of our modern society. That is an impressive achievement for a tale set in the 15th century.