This is one of the best novels that I have read on the Wars of the Roses, and I do not say that lightly. Part of me is surprised that I can make such a statement about a book that does not necessarily portray each historical figure as I would have or highlight the events that I would feature, but, regardless of any differences in opinion that I might have with Iggulden, this book is amazing.
You know how one could be put to death in medieval times by being pulled apart by four horses? That's kind of how this book feels . . . . but in a good way.
In one corner, we have Margaret of Anjou, who Iggulden has attempted to force us to sympathize with throughout the series. In the first book, Stormbird, I would say he accomplishes this. Seeing Margaret as a hopeful young bride with little understanding of the greater political game being played around her, shed new light upon her. Unfortunately, I have yet to find an author who can justify the bloody acts perpetrated by Margaret in the name of her catatonic husband. In this book, she makes her last stand. I knew it was coming, knew what was going to happen, but for once wasn't thinking that she was finally getting what she deserved. No mother deserves what Margaret went through, even if she had caused so many other mothers to go through the same thing.
In the next corner, those irresistible Sons of York. So easy to cheer for despite their arrogance and weaknesses that eventually bring about the end of the Plantagenet dynasty. Iggulden shows us the closeness between Edward the warrior king and his devoted brother, Richard, while managing to realistically demonstrate how that could have easily evolved into self-preservation on Richard's part upon Edward's death. Edward and Richard were so well-versed in war that neither seemed to really know how to be a king of peace.
Then we have Richard Neville, earl of Warwick. To me, he is the real star of this series. Instead of being a wily kingmaker who puts whomever on the throne that will give him the greater power, he is portrayed as a man always trying to do the right thing - yes, the right thing for himself, but even more so for his country. He is haunted by the execution of his father and tortured by the idea of going to war with young men whom he thinks of as sons. Maybe that is why he made the poor tactical decisions that led to his death. I have never read a better characterization of this man who had such a vital impact on the Wars of the Roses. I wanted him to be victorious, for he and Edward to be reconciled and live happily ever after. Damn historical fact.
Finally, the Tudors were constantly sneaking around the edges of this story like that quiet contestant on 'Survivor' who is victorious in the end because everyone else has destroyed each other. Jasper is less gloriously and probably more realistically portrayed as a man who is unafraid of doing whatever it takes to protect his nephew. Henry's cold manner that he is so famous for is satisfactorily explained as the result of a childhood void of affection, but it serves him well when calmly leading men, unemotional in the face of horrible odds.
Each of these players was brought to life in a way that made me wish that none of them had to die. But they did, and often with an eerie quietness that gave me chills. Instead of the big build up and dramatic death scene often found in novels, these characters died like everyone else, from a chance weapon swing or unnoticed opponent. Felled by illness or a victim of their own impetuosity, they died without false glorification. I didn't even have time to cry for them before events moved on without them.
They all had faults. Margaret's ruthlessness. Edward's hunger for blood and adventure that could only be fed by drink when he was at peace. Warwick's reluctance to take the big steps that would bring about resolution. Each of them committed violent acts that would haunt them. They were each so real.
Usually an author lets you know who the hero of a story is. When we review books of this era, we say things like, 'This was a Lancastrian point of view' or 'a Ricardian novel.' This was the story of them all, and I wanted everyone to win. But there were so few real winners in the Wars of the Roses. After all, that's how Henry Tudor was crowned in the end. Nobody else was left.