Kingmaker: Divided Souls

Written by Toby Clements
Review by Jan Middleton

Third in a series of four, here is a product of vivid imagination and astute historical knowledge, tempered by fine writing skills. Toby Clements evokes the world our ordinary, 15th-century ancestors inhabited and shows how the merciless ambition of kings and nobles impacted their lives. It’s an adventure story in the best tradition; the credible characters range up and down north-east England in search of refuge, survival and sometimes just each other. Sit down for a rugged, compelling read, lanced with tenderness. We are all familiar with the cast of historical figures (Edward IV, Lord Hastings), yet Clements fleshes them out in a fresh way, and by the time you have finished reading you’ll think his imagined characters probably existed too!

The present-tense narrative works exceptionally well, allowing the reader to experience all the happenings alongside the protagonists. Descriptions of fighting, travelling, eating, drinking and even the bliss of bathing simply leap off the page with admirable authenticity. One of the most enjoyable aspects is Clements’ imaginative re-creation of the English landscape of the 1460s: valleys, moors and forests without signposts. We are shown the vivid detail of how the common folk went about their daily lives in their cruck houses, inns, fields and churches. Has Clements been time-travelling on the quiet? He certainly offers fascinating glimpses of medieval medical procedures. Getting the dialogue right is always a thorny issue in historical fiction. Toby Clements handles it deftly, using enough vocabulary and turn of phrase to establish historical context but otherwise allowing speech patterns to seem real rather than mannered. Inner monologues are convincing too. The novel would translate well to the screen or radio. The Kingmaker series is new to me; I’ll be reading the first two novels, and await the fourth avidly!