Having read Robyn Young’s Robert the Bruce trilogy recently, I was looking forward to reading her new novel, Sons of the Blood. It’s the first in a planned series – New World Rising – set in Renaissance Europe and following the adventures of Jack Wynter, the illegitimate son of royal chamberlain Sir Thomas Vaughan.
As the novel opens in 1483, the unexpected death of Edward IV after several years of stability has plunged England back into turmoil and uncertainty. Just when it seemed that the Wars of the Roses were over, the country now faces the prospect of another child king on the throne, unable to provide the strong leadership required. But as Thomas Vaughan escorts the young Edward, Prince of Wales, to London to be crowned, they are intercepted at Stony Stratford by the prince’s uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester.
Accused of treason and fearing for his life, Thomas finds an opportunity to send one of his squires to Seville with an urgent message for his son, Jack, who has been in Spain for several months guarding a mysterious leather scroll case. To Jack, this had seemed like an excuse to remove an inconvenient illegitimate son from the country, but when he learns that his father’s messenger has been attacked on his way to Seville, he realises that the case really does contain secrets of great importance and that men are prepared to kill to get their hands on these secrets.
Returning to England in the hope of learning more, Jack finds himself surrounded by enemies, one of whom is his own half-brother, Harry Vaughan. Desperate to find answers to his questions, Jack decides to seek the help of another boy to whom Sir Thomas had been a father of sorts – the young Edward V, who has now been deposed by his uncle Richard, and has disappeared, along with his brother, into the Tower of London. As rumours of the princes’ deaths begin to spread throughout the city, Jack is drawn into one of history’s greatest mysteries.
I have to say, this wasn’t quite what I expected when I first heard that Robyn Young was writing a series set during the Renaissance; I had thought there would be a wider geographical scope, so I was surprised to find that this first book is set mainly in Richard III’s England. The Wars of the Roses is one of my favourite subjects to read about, though, so I’m not complaining – and I’m sure Jack’s adventures will be taking him to other locations in future books.
I have read a lot of different portrayals of Richard III over the last few years and a range of different theories and opinions on the question of what really happened to the Princes in the Tower. From the beginning, Robyn Young’s depiction of Richard was quite negative – he comes across as ambitious and ruthless (a human being, though, rather than an evil monster) – so I thought I knew which direction the story was going to take. I was wrong, of course! Richard is responsible for a lot of the bad things that happen in the novel, but not all of them, and it’s worth mentioning that Henry Tudor isn’t exactly shown in a very good light either.
As usual with one of Young’s novels, there’s a lot of additional material which all adds to the experience: maps, character lists (clearly showing who is real and who is fictional) and a comprehensive list of sources. Young admits in her author’s note that she had little prior knowledge of the fifteenth century, having been immersed in earlier periods while writing her previous trilogies, but I would never have guessed because, as far as the historical background is concerned, everything in the novel feels fully researched and authentic. I think she does a good job of working Jack Wynter’s fictional story into the historical facts – however, I’m slightly disappointed that the conspiracy/secret society/mysterious document aspect of the novel is so dominant. This period of history is interesting enough as it is!
With Sons of the Blood, the New World Rising series is off to a good start. I did enjoy it, despite having one or two reservations, and now I’m curious to see how the story is going to develop.