Fiction is fun, but don't mess with the history

Friday, December 4, 2015

Wars of the Roses: Margaret of Anjou, by Conn Iggulden (2015)

This second novel in Conn Iggulden's Wars of the Roses series brings this series of reviews up to date on recent historical fiction about this period of English history. Since this volume ends with a brief epilogue to the battle of Mortimer's Cross in 1461, we know there's at least one more book to come. The first volume, Stormbird, was the first Wars of the Roses novels reviewed here.

Since then, a number of interesting side notes have come to my attention. One is that the ancient battle over Richard III's reputation is still very much alive. Sharon Kay Penman, Philippa Gregory and the Richard III society have worked to rehabilitate the king Shakespeare destroyed, but the Tudor narrative that inspired the bard also lives on. A recent book review, titled Richard III: a bad man - and even worse king, heaps scorn on the efforts of the Richard III Society, while calling attention to a new biography that seems to hew closer to the Tudor line.

The most important recent Richard III event was, of course, the 2013 discovery of Richard's remains in Leicester. Subsequent study of the skeleton has cleared up at least one controversy - the exact nature of the king's spinal deformity. Forensic investigations identified the condition as adolescent-onset scoliosis.

Unfortunately, Conn Iggulden seems to have composed his brief portrayal of the child Richard in this novel without seeing the forensic results. The portrayal presented is of a young child wracked with pain and nearly crippled by his spinal deformity, which would not have been the case with adolescent-onset scoliosis.

That early picture of a suffering child Richard, added to the sympathetic portrayal of Margaret of Anjou, seem to indicate that Iggulden leans more toward the Tudor school of thought. It will be interesting to see how the fictional Richard York develops in the remainder of this series, and whether the questions about Henry Tudor's fatherhood are mentioned, even as slanders (some have speculated that Henry VI mental condition made fatherhood unlikely).

A judgment made in my earlier review of Stormbird needs re-examination. I stated that Iggulden's style in that first volume was "closer to Sharon Kay Penman than the more military-centric Bernard Cornwell". In Margaret of Anjou, the style has definitely shifted more toward Cornwell. That may simply be a consequence of the increased number of battles contained in the period 1454-61, or it may have been a conscious effort to inject more battlefield action.

Other than the inaccurate childhood picture of Richard, factual accuracy seemed to be on a high level. Iggulden has come a long way in that regard since the execrable Emperor series, possibly aided by the story's location on home turf. So far, this a well-written series, and I look forward to the next installment.

Update: May 6, 2017. My library only had the audiobook version of War of the Roses: Bloodline, third novel in the series. It worked well in passing the time of a long car trip, but only got me halfway through. Back home, frankly, I lost interest (never a big audiobook fan). Iggulden's writing is fine, but not as good as either Cornwell or Penman. There wasn't enough difference in historical interpretation to make it work another trip across those years. Time for a change of scenery.

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