Ravenspur is the enthralling and climactic final novel in the Wars of the Roses series by one of the worlds most renowned Historical Fiction writers, Conn Iggulden. I suppose I ought to say that this review will contain spoilers, just in case anyone doesn’t know how the Wars of the Roses turned out. The book begins in 1470 with the young Henry Tudor escaping captivity in Pembroke castle and the deposing of Edward IV by his previous mentor, Richard Neville (Warwick), and takes us through to 1485, the Battle of Bosworth Field, and the rise of the Tudor dynasty with Henry VII’s ultimate victory.
Having enjoyed the previous three books in the series – Stormbird, Trinity, and Bloodline – I had high hopes for this book, and it didn’t disappoint. Conn Iggulden’s writing wonderfully captures the dark, brutal and gritty world of 15th Century England, filling the world with nuanced and balanced characters throughout. I especially liked his writing of Warwick and Richard III (Richard of Gloucester). These two characters would have been easy to write as cardboard cut-out villains, especially with Richard III, who is almost universally portrayed in a poor light, the benefits of the Tudor’s propaganda machine showing themselves even today. Instead, we get two characters who are definite shades of grey. In Warwick, especially, we get well developed motives, alongside a sense of morality (if slightly twisted and self-serving) that leaves him pondering his own actions and choices.
However, possibly Con Iggulden’s greatest triumphs in this book, and the series as a whole, is to make the characters memorable enough to follow what is happening to each one, despite most of our main characters all having the same names. Apparently, Henry, Edward, and Richard were the in-vogue names for 15th Century English nobility, making lineage a bit tricky to follow.
The reality of this book is that it covers two stories. First, the rebellion of Warwick against the Yorkist king, Edward IV, which temporarily sees the Lancastrian king, Henry VI returned to power; then secondly, the aftereffects of Edward IV’s death, with his brother Richard III seizing the throne and battling the Lancastrian’s last claimant, Henry Tudor (who becomes Henry VII), at Bosworth Field. This, for me at least, brings us to the most disappointing part of the book. It should have been two books.
The first part of the story is fantastically done. As with the previous books in the series, the prose perfectly strikes the balance between keeping the story exciting with a fast pace; weaving in beautiful descriptive phrases to paint vivid images of events, characters and locations in our heads; and explaining an increasingly topsy-turvy storyline. Unfortunately, the second half of the book – Richard III’s reign and the rise of the Tudors – seems rushed, hopping from event to event with little to no build up or explanation for motivations. This is a real shame as it breaks down what has always been a real strength of this series in the last little bit, which covers, arguably, some of English history’s most iconic moments in little over a hundred pages. I can only assume this was an editorial decision, thinking that a fifth book was a bit much, as it doesn’t seem to match the author’s usual style.
This is, however, my only real criticism of the book, or the series actually. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Historical Fiction. Though, obviously, read the first three books in the series before this one. Otherwise you may get a bit confused. So, if you do decide to pick this book up, settle in for a dramatic and thrilling ride through a complex and bloody period of English history. Even if you are normally more of a Fantasy fan, you may still enjoy this book as this period is famously one of the main inspirations for George R.R. Martin’s epic Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) series.