Review: Wars of the Roses: Bloodline, Conn Iggulden

I have reluctantly trudged my way through the first two books of this trilogy so despite misgivings, when I saw the third part on Netgalley, I capitulated.  Conn Iggulden is a well thought of historical novelist and his battle scenes are always choreographed with remarkable attention to detail, but he often lacks the human touch or indeed subtlety which has made Livi Michael’s series so enjoyable.  There is an early sign however that this novel will be slightly different however, when Iggulden acknowledges in his preface that he had found this novel difficult having recently lost his own father.  Given that several of his main protagonists are also recently bereaved – the Earl of Warwick of his father and the future Edward IV of his father Duke of York – there is a greater depth of feeling in this volume to its predecessors and I found myself drawn in as I had not been before.  This is not destined to be classic historical fiction, I will not be re-reading, but I did feel that the trilogy concluded on a far stronger note and left me wondering what he would have had befall his characters next.

Bloodline launches into the action directly after the deaths which came at the end of Trinity, with the Duke of York’s head being placed on a spike.  Iggulden has always had an eye for the gruesome, with the soldier observing that the Duke’s cold chin had grown bristles after death.  Flashing between the Lancastrian and Yorkist camps, Iggulden never quite seems to take a side, with both being shown to be fallible.  For me, the weakest point of the series has always been Derry Brewer, plain-spoken advisor to Margaret of Anjou.  He is an author proxy, speaking the ‘truth’ and being border-line omnipotent – he is essentially Ray Winstone.  Iggulden apparently created him with the thought that there must have been a driving force in the Lancastrian camp and that none of the known existing players appeared to fit the bill, so he created a jumped-up peasant who was of course lost to history and therefore a plausible creation.  But he just isn’t.  He wriggles free of every calamity with Houdini-like skill, he has a superb network of spies and agents and yet he still can’t keep Henry VI’s behind on the throne.  Derry’s all-knowing wisdom and earthy ways really wore thin for me – he was the Jar-Jar Binks of the franchise.

The strength of Iggulden’s writing comes from his depictions of the relationships between men.  Warwick and Edward IV’s uneasy alliance crumbles into distrust but we can see their clashes in context and how their warring griefs create dissension of their own.  Iggulden’s Elizabeth Woodville is a scheming temptress, purring her poison into Edward’s ear – in short, a one-dimensional character – but the bonds of battle-forged brotherhood are far more fleshed-out.  Margaret of Anjou fares little better, as Derry Brewer’s character tends to muscle out any chances for her autonomy within the story.  There is less of a focus on battle scenes in Bloodline but this is still a world away from the frothy efforts of Gillipa Phregory.  Oddly, the series does not end with the final death of Henry VI, but rather with Warwick’s final betrayal.  It is a cliffhanger ending and seems slightly out of place; it would have been interesting to see the ultimate downfall of Derry Brewer but it seems that Iggulden could not bear to dispose of him.

I will not miss this series, I will not seek out Iggulden’s other works but I was glad to see some of the glimpsed potential of Stormbird come to fruition.  The Wars of the Roses has been recounted and retold and reinvented in so very many different ways and this is by no means the most creative but finally with Bloodline, Iggulden brought something fresh – his own grief. This seems to have led him to a far greater understanding of his characters who, before anything else, were young men who loved and lost their fathers and whose rage changed the fate of Britain.

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Bloodline by Conn Iggulden
Published by Penguin Books Limited (UK) on September 23rd 2015
Genres: Fiction, General, Historical, Political, War & Military
Pages: 420
ISBN: 9780718159887

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One thought on “Review: Wars of the Roses: Bloodline, Conn Iggulden

  1. I’ve really enjoyed Conn’s story telling, from the Mongolian plains to the forests of Gaul and currently the highs and lows of medieval England. Just finished the 3rd Roses book and something jumped out at me right at the end in a section given to describing the weapons of the day. Re the crossbow: “It was that slow and ponderous rate of fire that led to them being trampled by the impatient French cavalry at Agincourt.” Many years ago I read a book called ‘The Bowmen of England’ in which this particular event was said to have occurred at Crecy. Just wondering….
    Stephen Fry

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