Kingmaker: Broken Faith

Written by Toby Clements
Review by Lucinda Byatt

Toby Clements really does get into the nitty-gritty of how the people of 15th-century England ‘lived, loved, fought, and died’. He thanks many for their expert knowledge, but it is his infectious quest for the precise detail that brings this second novel in the Kingmaker trilogy alive, as much as the first. That precision is not only expressed in medical detail – of which there is plenty: a successful caesarean section (successful for the newborn, that is), the amputation of a forearm, and the extraction of an arrowhead embedded in a subscapular position, all of which call for the application of large quantities of cleansing urine – but also in the cruel depiction of life in the northern fortresses of Alnwick and Bamburgh, which were held by Henry VI during the years when everything appeared to conspire against him.

Clements’s protagonists, Thomas and Katherine – the latter spends most of the book being someone else – are wholly convincing and carry the narrative well: their reunion and subsequent journey north bearing a mysterious ledger, which they intend to present to the Lancastrian king, forms a compelling backbone which will continue to the final volume of the trilogy. Many of the characters will be familiar to those who enjoyed the first book, Winter Pilgrims, including the trusted Sir John Fakenham and the villainous Rivens. Clements has given a powerful interpretation to the two main battles of this period, Hedgeley Moor and Hexham, based less on legend and more on his reading of the topography and the possible psychological forces at play among the turncoats in Henry’s army. Whatever the ‘truth’ of the matter, this is a thoroughly engaging read.