Sons of the Blood | Robyn Young | 2016 (28 July) | Hodder & Stoughton | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book
When the year 1483 dawned, the people of England might have been forgiven for thinking that the long years of the Wars of the Roses were in the past – the vigorous, strong Edward IV sat firmly on the throne, his sons Edward and Richard secure in their succession. But the unexpected death of Edward IV was to change all that. England could hardly forget the trauma brought on by the infant monarch Henry VI and now, in Edward V, there is another child on the throne, his relatives gathering on either side with menace. Onto the stage treads Richard of York, the young king’s uncle, a surfeit of ambition driving him on.
Many are caught in Richard’s scheming, including Sir Thomas Vaughan, chamberlain and like a father to the Prince Edward, a powerful man despite his lowly origins. Fearing the worst, the Princes held captive in the Tower of London, Thomas sends a secret message via one of his squires to his illegitimate son Jack Wyntner, currently living a dissolute life in far off Seville where his father had sent him months before. At the time Jack thought he had been banished to hide his father’s shame but now he is to learn that it was trust that made Thomas send his son so far away. Jack had been sent off with a document that men would kill to possess. But an enemy steals and corrupts the secret message, leaving Jack with no choice but to travel back to England to find answers to the mystery entrusted with him and bring vengeance on those who ended everything he held dear. Jack will find himself in the heart of chaos as England is divided once again, turning on its usurper king.
Sons of the Blood is the first novel in a new series by Robyn Young, and this in itself is a cause for celebration. Robyn Young is one of the finest writers I’ve read in recent years. Her prose is beautiful, her historical fiction enriched by meticulous research and great empathy for its characters. In the past Robyn has written about the Crusades and medieval Scotland. Now she turns her attention to the late 15th century, a fascinating period of history, but the scope is broader than just England, it will also encompass Renaissance Europe and beyond. It also promises to mix historical fiction with elements of a mystery thriller, a quest. This is a period of history I’m especially keen on and it has such possibilities. This first novel focuses on England during the reign of Richard III but one senses that this is just the beginning.
The novel combines real historical figures with fictional characters. We move between the battlefield, palace staterooms and the streets of London, as the story of Richard’s seizure of the crown, the efforts of Henry Tudor to snatch it from him, and Jack’s perilous quest merge. Each of these threads is fascinating, competing for our attention, but there’s another one that will probably stay with me the longest – the story of Prince Edward, for so short a time Edward V, and now, along with his younger brother Richard, a person that so many people want dead. The story of the Princes in the Tower is a familiar one but Robyn Young shows that there is much more to be said about it. Fathers and sons, mothers and sons, brothers and brothers, uncles and nephews – these relationships are key to Sons of the Blood.
In her historical afterword Robyn Young makes an intriguing note. She says that the Wars of the Roses was the first medieval conflict in which aristocrats were no longer regarded as potential hostages to ransom, as booty. In these wars, aristocrats fought to avoid becoming traitors, executed, their titles and lands attainted. As a result, there were plenty of dispossessed and desperate nobles with everything to fight for and little to lose. Jack might be illegitimate but he no longer need envy Harry, his father’s son and heir left with nothing to inherit.
The portrait of Richard III is excellent, culminating in a thrilling re-enactment of the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Richard is responsible for acts of such evil that there were times when my jaw dropped (there’s one moment in particular that I’m not going to forget in a hurry). But Henry Tudor doesn’t get off lightly either. On the contrary.
Robyn Young does such a good job of making the fictional mystery just as exciting and well-developed as the historical drama of this final gasp of the Wars of the Roses. This is largely due to the character of Jack Wynter who definitely holds our attention. There are plenty of bit players who also compete for it. There are others who are just hinted at. The mystery itself remains in the shadows. There is plenty more to come.
Sons of the Blood ends looking forward to the next in the series but it is also a complete novel in its own right, encapsulating the reign of Richard III and providing such a good take on the mystery of the Princes in the Tower. I am so looking forward to watching this series develop. The possibilities are boundless and all in the company of Robyn Young’s beautiful prose.