Kingmaker: Broken Faith | Toby Clements | 2015 | Century | 447p | Review copy | Buy the book
Broken Faith is the second novel in Toby Clements’ excellent Wars of the Roses series Kingmaker. Broken Faith continues shortly after Winter Pilgrims left off and, although the action is self-contained in Broken Faith, I really think you need to have read the first in order to enjoy and appreciate fully the second. And so the review below assumes that you’ve also read Winter Pilgrims.
It’s two years since the Battle of Towton and everything has changed for Katherine and Thomas. They have been separated by civil war – Thomas was dreadfully injured in the battle. The head wound left him without voice and memory, Katherine forgotten. The only place he could remember was a home he left years before but, in ignorance of all that has happened, he returns to his brothers farm, mute and disliked. Katherine continues her life in disguise, the wife of a blinded husband who thinks she is someone else but loves her with all his heart. But her old surgeon skills are her downfall – Katherine helps a servant’s wife to give birth and is left with no choice but to kill the mother to spare the child. There is no choice. To avoid the noose, Katherine must return to obscurity, that’s if she can survive the prison she’s placed in, taking her right back to where she began in Winter Pilgrims.
Broken Faith continues the mystery of the ledger, the book that Katherine and Thomas feel compelled to carry with them without knowing what it hides. But as the novel continues, and once the two are reunited, they finally crack the code and the secret spurs them on into the midst of the conflict that is tearing England apart. This takes them to England’s north and Alnwick and Bamburgh Castles. As people from all levels of society turn their backs on their former lords, switching allegiances, Katherine and Thomas find themselves in the camp of their former enemy Henry VI, the dethroned king. The novel vividly evokes a country that is devastated by a war that is fuelled by aristocratic grievances and fought by those who have no choice in the matter. Disguised again as Kit, Katherine has to use all her surgeon’s skill to save lives, even the lives of people she wants to kill. For the past has caught up with Katherine and Thomas. The reason for the Wars of the Roses means next to nothing to our two heroes. They have their own personal war to fight and their enemy is closer – and more dangerous – than ever.
Toby Clements brings the Wars of the Roses to life in all its visceral horror, terror and bloodshed. His description of the Battle of Towton in Winter Pilgrims was simply tremendous, the finest depiction of medieval warfare I’ve read. While we don’t have a battle of the same scale in Broken Faith, two battles are included and they are superbly done. The gore and squeamish nastiness of medieval medicine and surgery is even more prominent in this second novel – Toby Clements spares us none of it. You might not want to eat first before reading parts of this book.
Broken Faith has the mood of an inbetween novel in some ways. The events of Winter Pilgrims are difficult to follow and history doesn’t give us set pieces of the same magnitude during the period covered here. Also, much of the novel feels like a journey, marred by misunderstandings, mistaken identities and treachery. I was pleased when the two main characters were finally reunited – this series succeeds most of all when Katherine and Thomas are together. The mystery of the ledger is almost incidental and increasingly unimportant, especially as Henry VI is such an uninspiring figurehead and the leaders of the other side receive little attention. The political secrets of the Wars of the Roses seem to matter very little when set against the suffering of the common people, and our heroes, which dominate our sympathies during this novel.
This is a wonderful series – violent, bloody, squirm-inducing and bleak. What saves it from sinking us into the despair of the times is Thomas and Katherine, both of whom are very easy to care for. Many of the other characters we meet along the way also stand out, often for their nastiness but sometimes for their kindness. Sir John, in particular, despite all the tragedy that plagues his family, is such a good companion. History and fiction mix so well in this series, bringing to life a period that I am so happy to read about very relieved I don’t have to live through. I look forward to book three very much indeed!
Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims