Despite my love of historical fiction, there is one very popular and successful historical fiction author I’ve been avoiding and that is Conn Iggulden. The reason I had been wary of trying one of his books is that they seemed to be marketed towards readers who enjoy books filled with non-stop action and battle scenes rather than the type of historical fiction I prefer, but when I had the opportunity to read Stormbird, the first in Iggulden’s new Wars of the Roses series, I decided to give him a chance and see what I had been missing out on.
Stormbird is set during the reign of Henry VI at the beginning of the series of fifteenth century conflicts which became known as the Wars of the Roses. Unlike his father – Henry V, the hero of Agincourt – Henry VI is a quiet, gentle man unable to give England the strong leadership it needs. He relies on men such as his spymaster, Derry Brewer (a fictional character), and William de la Pole, the Duke of Suffolk, to help him rule the country. In an attempt to keep peace with France, Suffolk negotiates a marriage between Henry and Margaret of Anjou, the French king’s niece, but as part of the deal the English must surrender some of their territories in France. Not surprisingly, this decision is very unpopular with the English public – and with another claimant to the throne, Richard, Duke of York, as one of his opponents, Henry’s crown could be under threat…
The Wars of the Roses is a time period I particularly enjoy reading about and am starting to have quite a good knowledge of, but my reading usually tends to focus on the later part of the period – the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III – so I liked the fact that this book, being the first in a series, concentrates on the earlier years and some of the people and events that I’m less familiar with (I enjoyed the sections of the book that followed Margaret of Anjou’s story, for example, though unfortunately we saw less and less of her as the book progressed). It’s really not necessary to know anything about the Wars of the Roses before starting this novel, though, and there are plenty of maps, family trees and character lists at the front of the book if you need some help.
My interest in the time period, however, was not enough for me to feel fully engaged with this novel and towards the end I was tempted to start skimming through the final chapters. As I suspected, this is a book aimed more at readers who prefer a very plot-driven novel with lots of fighting and descriptions of weapons and military tactics. It’s not badly written and I can definitely understand the appeal, but I was disappointed by the lack of period feel and strong, well-developed characters. In a book with such a lot of characters it’s important for each of them to be unique and memorable, but sadly there were only one or two here who really came to life for me and even with those few I found it difficult to form any kind of emotional connection. This was disappointing as there are so many fascinating historical figures associated with this period and I had been curious to see how Iggulden would portray them.
I didn’t like this book enough to want to continue with the next one in the series, but I’m sure it will be an enjoyable read for Iggulden’s fans and for readers whose tastes in historical fiction are not the same as mine. It did remind me, if I needed reminding, of how much I love reading about the Wars of the Roses and what an intriguing, turbulent period of history it was.
I received a copy of this book for review via Netgalley