Book review: Wars of the Roses: Bloodline by Conn Iggulden

Wars of the Roses: Bloodline by Conn Iggulden
Wars of the Roses: Bloodline by Conn Iggulden
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Towton… the bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil left 28,000 men dead in just 24 hours and the rivers running with blood for three days.

In the bitter, corrosive Wars of the Roses, this vicious battle, fought in a driving snowstorm on Palm Sunday in 1461, resulted in more fatalities than the first day of the Somme in 1916 and killed about one per cent of England’s three million population.

In the third spectacular novel in what is shaping up to be Conn Iggulden’s best historical action series yet, the brutal horrors of Towton and the political machinations that led to this fateful March day get a breathtaking re-enactment.

Iggulden’s trademark brilliant plotting and historical accuracy, allied to stunning psychological insights and the sheer beauty of his prose, raise Bloodline – follow-up to Stormbird and Trinity – into a new and impressive league.

Rarely does history – and those figures, big and small, who walked upon its stage – come alive with such verve and vigour, authenticity and atmosphere, excitement and exquisite emotion.

Already the outstandingly popular author of two historical series, on Julius Caesar and the Mongol Khans of Central Asia, Iggulden has undoubtedly turned the Wars of the Roses into his crowning glory.

While the unstable and unworldly Lancastrian King Henry VI remains incarcerated by Yorkist enemies, his fearless and feisty wife Margaret of Anjou, hardened by years of pain and loss, is fighting for the inheritance of her seven-year-old son, Edward, Prince of Wales.

Her victory at the Battle of Wakefield saw the deaths of rival claimant, Richard Duke of York, and his ally Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury, their heads ignominiously spiked on York’s city walls.

With her son at her side, she is now riding south to free her husband from imprisonment in London with an army of triumphant northerners accompanied by a band of painted warriors from the Scottish Highlands.

But Margaret has unleashed the wrath of her victims’ sons, Edward of York and Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, united in raw grief and a powerful desire for revenge, and the young men in whose hands the fate of her husband now lies.

Nineteen-year-old Edward, the new Duke of York and at 6ft 4in the tallest man in his own army and noted for his strength, ‘temper and firm action,’ proclaims himself England’s rightful king.

Fresh factions form and as snow starts to fall, the two armies are destined to clash at Towton, near York, and a cruel battle of unspeakable horrors, fought in wind-whipped, stinging crystals of ice, which will leave survivors with ‘sweating dreams’ for the rest of their lives…

Immaculate research is always the sturdy backbone of Iggulden’s historical thrillers and Bloodline has it in spades, but this is an author also attuned to the sensitivities, mindset and political realities of an age far removed from our own.

That he can use words to transport us to the beating heart of the dangerous past with such visual and visceral impact, and allow us a brief glimpse of those who forged our history, is what makes Iggulden’s novels so remarkable, so addictive and so unmissable.

(Michael Joseph, hardback, £20)