In my mind, one of the most significant drawbacks of the modern education system is its tendency to silo or stovepipe ideas and topics. Yet as I learned in The Substance of Civilization, it was partially the work of Flemish artists that led to the invention of the movable type printing press...
Considering that a lot of classic fantasy genre tropes come from this period and region of history, perhaps that is a bit of an oversight on my part, one that reading Iggulden's Wars of the Roses series has helped me address. In fact, reading these books, combined with some thinking I've been doing recently about plotting, has led me to some interesting reflections. So while this is still a review of the series, I also want to talk a little about those thoughts.
If I were reviewing this is a fantasy book, I would critique is for being repetitive. After all, this is book four in which Lancaster and York fight, kings get captures, kings get killed, people don't have heirs at the appropriate times, and battles are fought over the exact same thing that they were waged a few years ago. However, if this is not a fantasy novel, so I can't blame Iggulden if Ravenspur started to feel repetitive in places. This is, after all, what really happened, or at least the broad strokes are. For some thirty years, the houses of York and Lancaster fought back and forth over the throne of England, and devastated the population in the process.
In the previous two books in this series, a lot of time was spent bringing players into place and setting up introductions. There is plenty of action, but it all retains a fairly light touch - there is a sense that, although things are happening and changes are occurring, nothing really major has changed yet, and anything that has changed is not necessarily permanent. This is common in series, when you start to look at them holistically; it takes time and words to put all of the characters into the places they need to be for the plot to start really picking up. With The Stiehl Assassin, the plot definitely accelerates.
There's something vaguely amusing about the fact that as I go through and read The Fall of Shannara series, I find myself most interested by, and rooting for, the invading Skaar and their hyper-competent Princess Ajin. It's not that I don't like the other characters (most of them, anyway), or that Brooks hasn't done a good job at making them sympathetic. To me, though, Princess Ajin is exactly what the best characters should be.
Where do I even start with a Shannara review? Shannara is epic fantasy in the very literal sense of the word, spanning hundreds of years of in-world history across myriad series and trilogies and stand-alone novels. Perhaps Brandon Sanderson's Cosmere may eventually be larger in literary scope, but even that will likely not sprawl so much as Shannara. Where a series like Wheel of Time covers a single story arc, Shannara has era, ages, and dozens of independent arcs. Sometimes, one has to wonder if Terry Brooks can bring himself to write anything that isn't Shannara: supposedly his Knight of the Word trilogy began as something new, and morphed into a prelude to Shannara.
For me, minimalism has always been a complicated topic. On the one hand, I'm drawn to the flexibility inherent to such a lifestyle, and especially to its efficiency. It's probably the engineer in my talking, but I hate to see things go to waste, whether that's food, money, time, or "stuff." Minimalism would, it seem, logically result in a highly efficient lifestyle. On the other hand, that same desire not to see things go to waste means that I am often disinclined to throw things away.
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.
As I was reading this book, I was wrestling with a confusion that had nothing to do with its contents, and which I should seek to clarify. This book, sold in the US as Margaret of Anjou, is the same book as Trinity, the title under which it is sold in the UK. And now that we have that exceedingly minor point of confusion cleared up, we can get on with the rest of the review.
What is the modern fantasy genre may arguably be said to have been derived from historical fiction. After all, much of classical fantasy was derived from the myths and legends of times gone by, and for a long time (arguably to this day), fantasy was significantly stuck in twelfth century Europe. The genre has since expanded far beyond those historical beginnings, with subgenres like alternative world fantasy that are set in completely different universes, with their own laws of physics, and with characters that sometimes aren't human at all. However, given that heritage, it perhaps should not be terribly surprising that a historical fiction novel about the Wars of the Roses would read more like fantasy than anything else.