Accession | Livi Michael | 2016 | Penguin | 408p | Review copy | Buy the book
Accession, the third and final novel in Livi Michael’s excellent chronicle of the Wars of the Roses, picks up where Rebellion left off, with Yorkist Edward IV’s triumphant return to the English throne after the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 and the flight of Henry Tudor, the last Lancastrian heir and future Henry VII, from Welsh captivity to exile in Brittany. Although the novel is the final part of a trilogy it does stand alone well but this review assumes that you’ve read the previous two, Succession and then Rebellion.
I really enjoy the way that Livi Michael uses her sources. Contemporary or near contemporary extracts from chronicles and other documents are scattered throughout the chapters, giving the whole novel the feel and authenticity of a chronicle that is close to the historical events it describes. But nevertheless Accession remains a novel and we are allowed into the thoughts, hopes and nightmares of the characters who shaped, and were shaped by, the events described in these pages.
The series has focused in particular on two women, Margaret of Anjou (Henry VI’s queen) and Margaret Beaufort (mother of Henry Tudor and one of the most significant landowners of 15th-century England). We have also got to know a host of other influential figures as the Wars of the Roses have progressed but, in this final novel, the focus has moved to Margaret Beaufort and her husband Lord Stanley, her son Henry, Edward IV and his queen Elizabeth, and Richard of Gloucester (later Richard III). Margaret of Anjou has now been left behind by history and her appearance is relatively fleeting, as is that of her one-time friend and present-day captor Alice Chaucer, but both of these women leave their mark in the novel. That is possibly my favourite section of the book.
Moving between the characters, providing perspectives from both sides of the conflict, Accession grips throughout as we’re carried through the final years of the Wars of the Roses. Some portraits are hard to forget – I’ve never seen Edward IV like this before – while the mystery of the Princes in the Tower is treated in an unusual and clever way. The chronicles add the detail. The Battle of Bosworth is meticulously depicted.
Few of the characters in the trilogy are likeable. Margaret Beaufort is not a sympathetic heroine, neither is Henry Tudor a charismatic or charming man. There’s a strong sense that these are deeply unpleasant times and many people, especially the violently reduced aristocracy, are just trying to survive. They feel like real people living through extraordinary times.
The events of the Wars of the Roses are well-known and they’ve been popular choices for novelists in recent months but this trilogy stands out. Livi Michael takes us closer to events, cleverly using her sources while still creating an engaging and gripping piece of historical fiction. In the first novel, Succession, the balance between sources and fiction wasn’t yet perfectly honed but by Rebellion it most certainly was and yet again, in Accession, it is perfectly done. I would love to see this technique carried through the Tudor years. I’m keen to see where Livi Michaels looks next for her inspiration.