AMAZON UK £3.99 £11.99
AMAZON US $5.68
AMAZON CA $6.84
Fictional Saga / Military
1400s / Richard III
This is a book for those who love epic rambles through a well-known historical epoch—in this case, the sketchy ascent to the throne of Richard III over the (presumed) murdered bodies of his two young nephews. This being a classic example of the reader knowing more than the characters, Derek Birks’ challenge is to fill the gaps — and there are plenty in the sad history of the Plantagenets - with a compelling fictional narrative.
Spanning a 10-week period from shortly after the untimely death of Edward IV to just after the contrived coronation of the dead king’s brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Birks tells his story through the adventures of his fictional protagonist, Sir John Elder, and his intrepid family and personal retinue. Loyal to the as-yet uncrowned young king, Edward V, and outlawed for his allegiance, Elder romps across the English countryside and through the squalid streets of London with his band of men-at-arms, intensely loyal to him from their days campaigning as mercenaries on the Continent. Although the ending is well known to us from Shakespeare—the young king and his brother murdered in the Tower—we also know that Henry Tudor waits in the wings. We haven’t heard the last of the Elder clan.
This volume will appeal to those readers who enjoy a big read within one of their favorite historical periods; I found the 526 pages a very big lift for a less Plantagenet-infatuated reader like myself. Cutting a hundred pages would have improved the pace as it is a little slow going in places, not always helped by the enormous number of characters, which make events hard to follow at times - some of these characters could have been cut without impact on the story. The in-the-nick-of-time escapes from all manner of danger was slightly contrived, but this would hardly be the first work of fiction to over-utilize that particular plot device. And I appreciated that the author exacted at least an ounce or two of flesh from his important characters as the toll for each such escape.
There’s a grand book lurking inside The Blood of Princes, which would have come to the fore with a more ruthless developmental edit, a detailed line edit and another proofread, as I spotted several missed errors. (Note to authors: putting a list of characters upfront isn’t much help in e-book format. It’s too clunky to flip back and forth on a Kindle.)
Nevertheless, the book showed a lot of historical story craft which will please readers who enjoy this period, and some of the characters - particularly the Elder women - were downright delightful.
© Jeffrey K. Walker