Hodder & Stoughton | 2018 (9 August) | 404p | Review copy | Buy the book
Court of Wolves follows directly on from Sons of the Blood, the first novel in Robyn Young’s New World Rising series, set during the 1480s. Do read Sons of the Blood first. This review assumes you’ve done that.
It is 1485 and Henry Tudor is king at last, having vanquished Richard III in battle and married Elizabeth of York, the niece of the defeated king. Now that he has power, Henry wants more of it and he is tantalised by a map that has newly come into his possession. It hints of undiscovered lands far to the west of Europe and possibly a new route to the riches of the East, now so difficult to reach due to the Turk. Henry believes that Isabella and Ferdinand, the warrior monarchs of Spain, may get there first, thanks to Isabella’s interest in a sailor named Christopher Columbus. This must not happen. Henry dispatches Harry Vaughan to Andalusia to serve as his representative in Isabella’s court. And there Harry finds himself caught up in Isabella and Ferdinand’s brutal and bloody crusade against the Moors. But even faced with all of this danger, Harry is still driven by his own quest – to find and kill his half-brother James Wynter who stole their executed father’s favour from him.
James Wynter is banished from England. The map his father had entrusted to him has caused nothing but misery and death and now it is in the hands of King Henry Tudor. James, known as Jack, has turned to Florence and the court of Lorenzo the Magnificent, a lord he believes will help him discover the truth about his father. But Lorenzo faces troubles of his own – his power is threatened by the court of wolves, a secret society of important men. He charges Jack with finding out who these men are. Only then will Lorenzo help Jack.
Court of Wolves covers such a fascinating period in European history, with the rise of a new dynasty in England, the domination of Isabella and Ferdinand in Spain, and the glorious power that was Florence. Robyn Young pulls it all together with such skill to show how this age was both golden and also bitterly violent, vengeful and cruel. The previous novel charted the end of the Wars of the Roses in England – the end of the Middle Ages in so many ways. Now we’re at the beginnings of the modern world, one that will be changed forever when Christopher Columbus sets sail. In this novel we’re at the very edge of these times as monarchs and rulers shift in their thrones, ready to progress, while continuing to smash their enemies.
Jack and Harry are caught up in the middle of it and the chapters move between them. Harry is the baddie. We’ve known that from the very beginning but that doesn’t mean that we feel nothing for him. He’s a petty fool, undoubtedly, and he’s completely out of his death in Andalusia. Particularly because he has a secret, a deadly secret, and it’s in danger of being uncovered. These sections of the novel place us squarely in the war against the Moors in Spain as we move across Andalusia, from castle to castle, sword in hand. It’s so well portrayed.
Jack is our hero, yet he too is floundering and at the whim of the powerful. I really enjoyed the descriptions of Medici Florence. I know the city very well and so loved seeing the transformation of familiar churches, palaces, streets, bridges and squares into their 15th-century form. There are so many little details about daily life in Florence. You can almost smell the stench of the Ponte Vecchio and the river, while marvelling at the statues that can still be seen there today. The political vendettas of the Medici court (and the papacy) dominate these sections of the book, but there’s still a sensuality about many of the people we meet. It is an intoxicating place. The sooner Jack can leave it the better.
Robyn Young always writes so beautifully and with great empathy. Her prose is thoughtful and elegant. The novel moves at a slow and luxurious pace – there is so much to take in as we get to know these very different worlds of Spain and Florence. Arguably, Court of Wolves does have the feel of a middle book about it. The previous novel had the tumultuous Wars of the Roses, and the story of the princes in the Tower, to drive it on, while this novel sets up the powers of Europe for Columbus’s great voyage, which I’m hoping will follow in the third novel (Amazon currently describes Court of Wolves as book 2 of 2, but that, I think, is either a mistake or extremely unlikely). I’m looking forward to finding out what’s next for Jack and Harry. One suspects that only one of them will prevail. The lovely hardback also includes a useful list of characters at the back.