Warning: this post contains spoilers for Conn Iggulden’s Bloodline, third in his Wars of the Roses series
Perhaps the most interesting facet of the writing of Iggulden’s Wars of the Roses historical fiction series is how, while the POV character switches frequently within each book, each novel seems to focus on a different character for its primary storyline, the character with whom the reader is meant to sympathize. In the first book, it was Margaret of Anjou. In the second book, it transitioned to York, particularly King Edward. With the third book, the series began to transition its focus to Earl Warwick, Richard Neville.
Double Star explored the idea that you cannot help but sympathize with a person, once you understand their motivations and their way of thinking, so it is not hard to create sympathy in writing for a given character; you need only explain things in a reasonable fashion from their perspective. Yet doing so is particularly interesting from a historical fiction perspective, and especially in the context of the real Wars of the Roses. From initially caring about the Lancaster claim to the throne, Iggulden masterfully transitioned us to sympathizing with the Yorkish cause. Then, as Bloodline gained momentum and came to an end, we see a new perspective: the Nevilles.
For the whole series, the Neville house has been in the background underwriting much of the conflict that has ensued with their grudge against the Percy family, and their quest to increase their power and influence. When the King’s new wife correctly notes their questing expansion of their power (although she incorrectly includes that they may be disloyal), and convinces the King to curtail Neville influence, it falls to Earl Warwick to address the way their influence is suddenly evaporating, apparently unjustly. In the lineage of so many other instances where those who had power began to lose it, the Neville house scrabbles for what they perceive as justice – by capturing and imprisoning the king they helped to crown.
All of this only works because of the focus that Iggulden has woven into the series on how kings were perceived during this period of English history, which I find as fascinating as he apparently did (as indicated in his historical notes). It is difficult to explain in a small quantity of words the visceral effect that kings could have on people during this period of history. We saw how this was associated with a relatively weak, unsympathetic king during the first parts of the series, and it is revealed in a new form with respect to a strong, warrior king. Leadership ability, it seems, affects the degree of fervor for the king, not the existence of it.
If there was a flaw in this book, it was in rushing through parts of its ending. King Edward mysteriously goes from a brooding, petulant, warrior-king bent mostly on revenge and killing and hunting, with no real interest in rule, to apparently filling the full mantle of royalty, without a lot of explanation. As the ending approaches, it is not clear how much is Edward, versus how much is his wife, or how it is motivated. Some of this is explained in the historical notes afterwards, and perhaps it is simply a matter of the information not existing. There is only so much that can be inferred, after all, from a limited historical record.
Perhaps parts of the ending, or even parts of the book, were a bit rushed, but the very ending brought hints and pieces scattered across the book together in a most satisfactory way. Just as the reader begins to think that the Lancaster house is off the board in the Wars of the Roses, Warwick is forced to flee England, in the process sewing the seeds for what I can only assume will be a Lancaster return in the fourth book of this series. But I won’t know that for sure until I read it. In the mean time, I encourage you to read Bloodline.
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