What happens when a king loses his prowess? The day Henry IV could finally declare he had vanquished his enemies, he threw it all away with an infamous deed. No English king had executed an archbishop before. And divine judgment was quick to follow. Many thought he was struck with leprosy—God's greatest punishment for sinners. From that point on, Henry's health was cursed and he fought doggedly on as his body continued to betray him—reducing this once great warrior to an invalid. Fortunately for England, his heir was ready and eager to take over. But Henry wasn't willing to relinquish what he had worked so hard to preserve. No one was going to take away his royal prerogative—not even Prince Hal. But Henry didn't count on Hal's dauntless nature, which threatened to tear the royal family apart.
My first impression of this book was that the author had devoted a lot of time and effort to her research of the period. She brilliantly brings to life the smells, sights and sounds of 15th-century England. My second thought was that I should have read the earlier books in the series first in order to acquaint myself with the cast of characters, which is long and complex. This is made more so by the fact that many of the characters are sometimes referred to by their titles and at other times by their names. However a comprehensive glossary is there to help the reader.
Having said this, once you get into the story it is the gripping tale of the English king, Henry IV, who is driven by his lust for power into making unlikely alliances with his French enemies, who executes one-time friends and does not stop short of beheading the Archbishop of York. Yet at the same time, the author makes it clear than Henry doesn't take these actions lightly. His conscience tortures him, but he convinces himself that what he does is for the stability of England and the House of Lancaster.
Despite suffering from a serious of strange ailments, which he starts to believe are a punishment from God for executing an archbishop, he clings to the throne and refuses to relinquish power to his son and heir Prince Hal.
The author has chosen to write about a turbulent, but significant period in English history when Henry's kingdom is beset with internal rebellions from covetous nobles, attacks from the Welsh, constant raids from the Scots, and problems with the French who want the English out of their country. She has managed to write a story of the flawed Henry IV which reveals him as a man, father and husband, as well as the dauntless king he was.
Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds
© Joan Fallon