Reviewed by David Maclaine
Stormbird gets Conn Iggulden's series on the Wars of the Roses off to a very promising start. The great challenge of making fiction from this famous civil war among the English aristocracy is the plethora of players and the astonishing way the action jerked back and forth. This first volume takes on the beginning of the long saga at a measured distance-runner's pace. This first slice of the story tells of the arranged marriage between the afflicted King Henry VI and the teenaged Margaret of Anjou, whose poignant relationship is the novel's emotional center, and of the loss of the English conquests in France, the Kentish rebellion of Jack Cade, and the maneuverings of two crucial lords: William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, who lends loyal support to his king, and Richard, Duke of York, who aims to exploit the mounting chaos for his own ends. The conveniently short list of main characters is rounded out by an English bowman-turned-farmer and the king's energetic spymaster whose exploits provide much of the ample and often bloody action.
What makes Stormbird such a quick and engaging read is Iggulden's storytelling craft, honed in the course of two previous series on the careers of Julius Caesar and Genghis Khan. He knows how to ratchet up suspense, shift to another scene, return for a temporary resolution, and then begin the process again, managing the difficult task of keeping the action moving briskly without seeming to rush past the characters and settings. I suspect that a scholar of the period would take issue with a few details, including his breezy oversimplification of the mechanics of feudal land-holding, which makes a lot of his subplot about the archer's private war seem dubious, but these passing qualms weren't enough to derail my wholehearted enjoyment of the novel, and I'd expect most readers to agree with me and look forward with some eagerness to the next installment. (2014, 496 pages)More about Stormbird at Powell's Books or Amazon.com