Stormbird (War of the Roses)

Written by Conn Iggulden

In this first of an anticipated trilogy, Iggulden turns his attention to the two powerful noble houses with potential claims to the English throne.

Lancastrian Henry VI ascends the throne when he enters adulthood. Completely unlike his father, Henry V, he is meek, mild, pious, sickly, often disoriented and weak-willed. To avoid another war with France, Henry’s advisors (here, read, primarily Derihew Brewer, an entirely fictional character and a tour de force), upon whom he is entirely dependent, strongly urge the king to enter into a secret truce with France, trading English holdings in France for a royal bride, Margaret of Anjou. Richard, Duke of York, and his followers see Henry’s decision as an opportunity to oust the ineffectual king. Rebellions break out; Henry’s reign is shaky if not nearing collapse, and often the young Margaret must step in to make crucial decisions.

Filling his novel with the violence of the times, Iggulden does not make an effort to “pretty up” the Middle Ages. As a woman reading Iggulden for the first time, I was struck by how gritty and masculine Iggulden’s narrative is, how even Margaret – a naïve 14-year-old at her marriage to Henry – is, within a fairly short time, masculinized. At the same time, Iggulden portrays her as a doting, loving wife who is protective and motherly. There are really no other women in this narrative, save briefly York’s wife, Cecily, who, like her husband, is tough and calculating. Other than the fact that these female characters get pregnant, there is nothing feminine about them.

I don’t know that this is a failing on Iggulden’s part, because the times were what they were, and his goal is to set the stage for the raging rivalries between the houses. This is a page- turner for sure, and I’ll continue to read the series.