Kingmaker is a four book series by author Toby Clements, set in one of my favourite periods of history, the Wars of the Roses. We follow the story of our two main characters Thomas and Katherine who are repeatedly dragged into the ongoing and recurring conflicts and various political plots. As noblemen and Kings strive for power in 15th century England.
I loved the variations in the battles described in the books. The reader experiences some through the eyes of those watching from afar, whilst others we are in the thick of the bloodshed and gruesome horror both during and in the chaotic aftermath of a medieval rout. The small more complex details of surgeries and wounds inflicted only adds to the gripping nature of the novels.
The themes of love, revenge and fear run strongly through all four books. It’s a real rollercoaster of emotions for the reader with many heart in mouth moments along the way! Our main characters are brilliantly developed throughout, importantly for me, the main characters, Thomas and Katherine are excellently portrayed as just normal people trying to make the best of their lives. Their epic struggle and desire for revenge leads them into situations they could never have imagined. It’s thoroughly refreshing to me that they are not simply developed into being the perfect heroes saving the day etc. Alongside happiness and love there is also heartbreak and often the strong feeling that violence and dark times lurk only around the corner.
Clements’ passion for the period really shines through, and the interesting and cunning side plots are always rearing their heads at unexpected moments which both shock and keep the reader turning the pages. The way Clements keeps you engaged right until the very end is magnificent as I found myself desperate to know the conclusion to the various plots running throughout the series.
In summary… I couldn’t put this down! This perfect for any fans of historical fiction!
Arrows of Albion is a three-book series written by Jonathan Lunn. It is set during the 14th century at the beginning of the Hundred Years War fought between England and France for control of the French throne.
The story is encapsulating, although there are some similarities to other novels at the beginning, Lunn quickly pulls the reader away from any fears that they may have read this story before. What I most enjoyed about the series is that there is a very good balance of action and battles along with other political machinations, we do not jump from battle to battle following an all-conquering hero. The battles in the series, most notably the battle of Crecy are exciting and engaging even for the reader who has read many different takes on the battle. The concept of chivalry is a strong theme throughout as we see the creation of the Order of the Garter and how knights often chose to ignore the principles of chivalry when it suited them. However, the tale is so much more than about the life of knights, I found Lunn’s take on the daily life of the ordinary people of England and the struggles and horror of the Black Death particularly detailed, making the reader imagine what life may have been like. The series concludes with Kemp having to hunt down an important book in order to save his friends, it was a nice way to finish the novels as it brought a sense of freedom for Lunn to create an adventure without needing to stick to historical facts. It keeps the reader turning the pages and provides something which may have been missing in the previous two books, in summary it is a truly gripping story.
Another great positive of the book is Lunn’s writing style, the books are fast moving and easy to follow therefore keeping the reader engaged from the beginning. The only slight criticism I can point out is the fact that the third book is fairly shorter than the previous two, however on the other hand I am glad it has not been padded out with content which would take us away from the fast moving story.
Martin Kemp is our main character; we are thrust into his seemly bland and ordinary life which is then turned upside down as we follow his adventures. As a reader I found myself often trying to work Kemp out, which in my opinion adds to the detail of the story. Lunn certainly must be praised for the in-depth development of characters such as Kemp, who faces his own internal struggles to be a good man in a violent world. Kemp sees his own long held beliefs in the codes of chivalry shattered, however refreshingly he is not simply portrayed as the perfect man with strong morals as we see him commit various violent acts, which he often struggles to recover from.
Kemp is loosely based on Sir John Hawkwood, who was an English mercenary living in the period. As a lover of history I enjoy when characters are loosely based on historical figures as I find myself vigorously researching who these people were. The historical notes are precise and bring a nice conclusion to each book explaining the sometimes unbelievable events in the books are based on historical fact!
Although this series would not be my first choice on the period, it certainly is well worth a read for avid historical fiction fans of the period.
The Kingdom series by Robert Low is a three-book series on the first war of Scottish Independence. It follows the chaotic lives of both famous historical figures like Robert the Bruce and William Wallace and fictional characters which allow the story to develop a creative freedom.
The story is an excellent mix of historical events and fictional adventure. Any initial confusion caused by following multiple characters is quickly dispelled by the regular updates on the date and location of each section of the story. These regular reminders of the dates keep the story ticking along and building nicely towards the key events of the period without feeling rushed. Low clearly depicts how the struggle for the Scottish crown is more than just battles against the hated English, there are numerous plots, murders and betrayals within the Scottish and English factions. What is abundantly clear is that all the leading powerful nobles and Kings are only chasing their own interests, using the lesser lords and servants as pawns in the game for the Scottish throne. This makes for a story which is engaging and enjoyable from the outset as we follow characters such as Hal and Dog Boy who are thrust into a world which is not of their own choosing in service of their King or lord.
Low weaves an elegant tale providing an in-depth story line demonstrating that Scotland was not a single united nation behind William Wallace or Robert the Bruce, leaving the reader with a clear understanding of how different the people are within the various regions of Scotland. The historical context of the story is interesting while the fiction and adventure provides that sparkle to keep you entertained. Culminating in the battle of Bannockburn which is presented by Low as a stunning collection of viewpoints from both the high and mighty and the lowly common solider or farm hand given a spear and told to fight. It provides a page turning thriller showing the horror and devastation of battle experienced by all.
The characters are much more than the standard Hollywood depictions of the heroes and villains of the period. You do connect with some more than others, however their motivations and what is important to each character could not be clearer. The in-depth descriptions and actions of each character certainly bring the fictional aspects of the story to life.
The historical note and list of characters are excellent reference points to keep the reader informed and clear on who are the key players and of the importance of the events unfolding.
I would recommend this series for the reader who is not only looking for battles and warfare, but also politics, plots and a good sense of adventure to go with it.
Cross of Fire is the sixth instalment of the Master of War Series by David Gilman carrying on the trend of catapulting the reader into the brutal warfare of 14th century France during the Hundred Years War.
Given the tragic events which have befallen Sir Thomas Blackstone in the previous episodes, as a reader you are once again fearing the worst when Blackstone is made to choose between family and his duty to his liege lord in a world of violence.
From the outset of the series the story is gripping and leads the reader on a roller coaster of emotions, where you feel each loss suffered by Blackstone and a part of the retinue of men he builds. The reader develops a strong sympathy and understanding of the actions taken by Blackstone as he struggles to do the right thing in a land savaged by warfare. This is certainly not the usual story of a hero and his friends winning the day and all being well in the end!
In comparison to other books on the period Gilman refreshingly moves away from the usual cliché of the French being the bad guys and the English the good guys. With betrayals, violence and various plots coming from all parties involved with most ultimately only pursuing their own interests often at the expensive of Blackstone. Constantly I found myself suspicious of new or recurring characters and what potential threat they may pose, which highlights a key strength of the series that it keeps you guessing.
The ending historical notes are precise and a good level of detail which does not leave the reader swamped with too much information. They provide an excellent historical context which the story is then built loosely around.
A thrilling series so far! I am eagerly looking forward to the next book!