Iggulden (The Blood of Gods, 2013, etc.) rallies dukes and barons, archers and peasants, schemers and warriors in this first in a trilogy chronicling the 15th-century War of the Roses.
Henry VI, only 22, assumes England’s crown; he's "a dear white lamb to lead us in prayer"—the opposite of his warrior father—and he mystically believes hours of prayer keep France at bay. "Bring me a truce, Derry," he commands Master Derihew Brewer, once an archer and now the king’s spymaster. Brewer brokers a treaty with France’s King Charles and Duke René of Anjou for the marriage of the duke’s daughter, 14-year-old Margaret, to Henry in return for the English-held lands of Anjou and Maine. Powerful warrior royals like Richard, Duke of York, are opposed. Others, like William, Lord Suffolk, are ambivalent but loyal to the crown. The marriage is made, English protection is withdrawn, and the farms and settlements in Maine and Anjou become prey to the French. Worse, the collapse of those betrayed English bastions causes violent unrest in England. Giving color to various scenes and schemes, Iggulden skillfully depicts bloody clashes as English settlers fight, then retreat from Maine, Anjou and Normandy into Calais, followed by action-packed and nerve-racking street fighting when rebellious Kentish Freemen march into London. With Suffolk dead, the precociously intelligent and courageous Queen Margaret, along with other loyal lords, relies on Brewer’s scheming to secure the physically weak and emotionally damaged Henry. An heir is needed. Other lords conspire to name York Protector and Defender of the Realm. Iggulden superbly dissects the dogfight among Edward Longshanks’ descendants, but he also creates memorable fictional characters—in addition to Brewer, there's Thomas Woodchurch, an English archer–turned–Anjou wool merchant drawn back to the bow.
Capturing the stink and gore, violence and romance of medieval life, Iggulden makes real those grand characters who live in the collective memory. A page-turner sure to have readers eager for the next in the series.