‘He summoned his will to be cruel, to tell Edward they had no choice but to run, that they were in the wrong place, in the wrong season and that Warwick had already won…
‘Very well, Edward. I will ride with you, one more time.”
It’s definitely a sign of a great series when you read the last book and are genuinely gutted that it’s over, and that’s how I felt when I finished Conn Iggulden’s Ravenspur. I didn’t actually realise it was the last book in the series until half way through (which was pretty idiotic really, seen as it said ‘Rise of the Tudors’ on a book about the War of the Roses!), and then I really didn’t want it to end!
In this final instalment, the House of Lancaster has risen up and driven the Yorkist King, Edward IV out of England along with his brother Richard, the Duke of Gloucester. However, the House of York doesn’t go quietly into exile – instead they rise up and strike back, landing at Ravenspur mere months later with an army, ready to wrestle back the crown. The country is again thrown into turmoil and war, yet no one yet realises that the true enemy has yet to enter the field. Away in France, young Henry Tudor bides his time…
Of the entire series, I felt like this book covered the most amount of time, and was all the better for it. It continually focused in on pivotal moments of the last years of the War of the Roses, skipping past the peaceful interludes to the many battles and more interesting episodes of political intrigue. Occasionally it seemed a little disjointed as it would spend a hundred or so pages describing one episode, before flicking to months or even years later, but for the most part it kept the pace fast and exciting.
All my favourite characters from the series returned, older and much changed, and I loved how this advanced their development throughout the series as a whole. The fierce and warlike King Edward, for example, has been reduced to a lazy drunkard by the start of this book by the years of peace, which I felt was fitting of his restless character. As soon as trouble is afoot he snaps into action, yet sinks again into depression and indolence when there is peace. I also liked the way his relationship with his wife Elizabeth Woodville was portrayed in this final book. Whilst they were so madly in love in the last book that they married against all reason and advice, here their relationship begins to unravel, which was both interesting yet heart-breaking to watch considering the consequences their marriage had (eg. Warwick turning on Edward).
Warwick, remained one of the most fascinating characters in the series, and became even more so in this book, with his sharp intellect and tactical mind now conflicted by his change of allegiance. He now has to use his skills in warfare against the two young men he practically brought up, and must struggle with the grief and guilt this triggers in him. Whilst Warwick has been depicted as merciless and unlikable character in other books I’ve read about the War of the Roses, here I really felt for him and the dilemma he finds himself in.
I also loved how we got to see way more of Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) in this book, as he was too young to feature much earlier in the series, and he is of course a very interesting historical figure considering the ambiguity surrounding his character. For most of the book he is one of the more likeable characters, yet Conn Iggulden managed to make him suitably complex, so that his later actions (the Princes in the Tower, etc.) didn’t seem out of character. I think it’s so easy for authors to paint Richard III as the classic Shakespearean villain, or try to completely go against that, so I liked the ‘shades of grey’ approach taken to his character in Ravenspur.
However, I do feel like Richard III’s reign was glossed over pretty quickly, as most of the book is devoted to Edward IV’s battle to reclaim the throne from the Lancastrians. Similarly, I feel that the ‘Rise of the Tudors’ aspect was rushed over a bit quickly too, as Henry Tudor is one of the lesser characters for most of the book, and didn’t leave a huge impression on me, considering he was the man who founded the Tudor dynasty.
I do really hope that Conn Iggulden tackles the Tudors next though! I know it’s a really overwritten area within the historical fiction genre, but I just love Iggulden’s writing style so much, that I’d love to see him take on characters like Henry VIII, and Thomas Cromwell, and Elizabeth I. His focus on action and in-depth character building really separated this series from a lot of other historical fiction I’ve read, and I definitely intend to read more of his books, whether he goes on to write about the Tudors or not.
As you can probably guess, I absolutely adored this series, and I really can’t recommend it enough to fans of historical fiction, or anyone interested in the War of the Roses!