Kingmaker: Divided Souls | Toby Clements | 2016 (30 June) | Century | 365p | Review copy | Buy the book
Divided Souls is the third novel in Toby Clements’ Kingmaker series set during the Wars of the Roses, a series that began with Winter Pilgrims. It follows on from Broken Faith and so you’d be best served by reading the novels in order although, as with most good books, it can be read on its own if you insist. This review assumes you’ve read the others first.
It is 1469 and Thomas and Katherine Everingham might be forgiven for thinking that history had finally forgotten them and that this time was theirs. Four years have passed since the traumatic events chronicled in Broken Faith and they live contentedly with their young son Rufus, alongside old friends, in the hall of their old lord Sir John Fakenham in the county of Lincoln. But Sir John’s death throws all into chaos as his widow Isabella, now old herself and almost completely blind, must turn to her sons from a former husband for support. Their casual cruelty and dismantling of the estate means that once again Thomas and Katherine must take to the roads to find shelter elsewhere.
Help comes from Lord Hastings, a man who knows that Thomas and Katherine both deserve gratitude for their deeds and courage through the interminable Wars of the Roses, but there is a price. It turns around the book that continues to haunt Thomas and Katherine because in it is contained a secret that could bring down a king, the book’s destruction as dangerous as its existence. And unwittingly Hastings puts Thomas and Katherine in the path of Edmund Riven, a cruel monster of a man who wants nothing more than to bring down the wrath of the devil himself on the heads of Thomas and Katherine Everingham.
Toby Clements’ Kingmaker saga has become one of my favourite historical series and without doubt Divided Souls is my favourite so far and, considering how fantastic Winter Pilgrims is, that’s quite an achievement. One of the reasons for the books’ success is that they focus on the impact of the Wars of the Roses on the ordinary men and women who fought it, often through no choice of their own, the ground repeatedly shifting under their feet as their lords changed sides, and too many times played the ultimate price – terrible life-changing injuries or death through battle or starvation or neglect.
Thomas and Katherine are not entirely ordinary, however. Both escaped a lifetime in religious orders and found each other, saved by the man, killed shortly afterwards, who gave them the book with its fearful secret. Toby Clements does such a good job of weaving the fictional story of Thomas and Katherine into English history during the 1460s, using their lives to demonstrate the cruelty of the times, in which safe havens were so far and few between for the vast majority of people who relied on a lord to feed and shelter them.
Historical events do have a habit of upsetting Thomas and Katherine’s plans. In the past there was the tumultuous and dreadful Battle of Towton, an event that overshadows the series and Thomas’s mind. In Divided Souls we have the resurgence of civil war thanks to the conflict between Edward IV and his old friend, now enemy, the Earl of Warwick, soon to become famous for having two kings of England under lock and key. The focus is on Thomas and Katherine and their comrades – and fearsome enemies – throughout but Edward IV becomes a character in his own right here during some of the novel’s most memorable and brilliant chapters.
Toby Clements does not shy away from the stench and gore of war but he also colourfully demonstrates that it wasn’t just on the battlefield that blood could be spilt. Katherine has become a skilled surgeon, regularly putting her talents to use through these novels, and in Divided Souls she must once more put them – and our squeamish sensibilities – to the test. There is one poor character in this novel who suffers more than most and has more reason than many to appreciate Katherine’s steady hands and cool nerve.
This is such a well-written series. It moves across the country, introducing us to memorable, often foul, sometimes humorous, characters, all of whom have their part to play in the lives of Thomas, Katherine and little Rufus. Edmund Riven looms over events like a monstrous ogre, disgusting men well-used to the horrors of battle. This is a war made personal and the Wars of the Roses themselves are secondary, something to hide in, to fight because one has no choice, the side almost irrelevant. This is not a series that judges Yorkist or Lancastrian princes and nobles. They make glamorous cameos and add a huge amount of interest but the judgement is reserved for the men and women who cross or smooth the path of Thomas, Katherine and Rufus. Above all else it is a hugely entertaining, if dark, historical adventure.
I understand that Toby Clements is currently working on the fourth and final novel in the Kingmaker series. I can’t wait to see what happens but I’ll be very sorry to see it end.