I’d been looking forward to reading this, because Robyn Young’s two previous trilogies had been so good, but I was a bit disappointed in it. However, it’s obviously going to be the first in a series, so maybe things’ll get better. It feels as if she’s going for a wider market by writing about Richard III, who’s been so much in the news this year, and channelling Dan Brown, but I’m not convinced that it’s worked very well. On the other hand, trying to tie the much-discussed subject of the Princes in the Tower in with the Voyages of Discovery and the aftermath of the fall of Constantinople is certainly a bold and different approach, and maybe the sequels will be better.
So, what have we got? The protagonist is Jack Wynter, fictitious illegitimate son of Thomas Vaughan, chamberlain to the young Edward V. The book starts with Jack in Seville, where he’s been sent by his father because of some mysterious secret involving a map. In this book, the fact that it’s Seville rather than anywhere else isn’t significant, but presumably at some later point it will become important that Seville is the city which will come to control trade with “the Indies”. Vaughan is executed, along with various other supporters of Edward IV, by the Duke of Gloucester, who seizes power as Richard III. At this point, the body count becomes so high that you start to feel that you’re in a computer nasty rather than a novel. In Seville, in Lewes (Jack’s home town, to which he initially returns) and in London (where he goes next), people are tortured and murdered one after the other. A lot of it feels rather gratuitous. And there are all sorts of cryptic comments about secrets and mysteries involving the fall of Constantinople, Lorenzo de Medici.
Then we move over to the Princes in the Tower. It seems to be the fashion these days for historical novelists to invent stories about the princes being rescued, presumably because that’s considered more exciting than the sad and almost certainly true version of events, that Richard had them murdered. However, as long as the author points out that they’ve made their story up, that’s not a problem. But this particular rescue story, without wanting to give too much away, didn’t ring very true. One of the princes was in ill health, but it was the one whom history tells us was in good health, not the one who’s recorded as having been ill. And the role of various people in the plot doesn’t make a lot of sense: their motives don’t seem very logical. And Richard doesn’t do anything to try to find out what’s gone on. Both he and Henry VII come across as very nasty pieces of work in this book.
Then there’s a lot more fighting and torturing. And a lot of unanswered questions. The Dan Brown-esque bit involves some sort of secret organisation apparently involving the Medicis of Florence, Thomas Vaughan, and a French monk who used to live in Constantinople, and a theory that everyone was the same religion until the time of Noah’s Ark (a Bible story they apparently take literally, but, OK, that works in the 15th century) and that the Church is rotten and (is this supposed to have some sort of message for modern times?) the West should be working with the Ottomans. Somehow linked to all this is a map showing lands to the far west, which, as the good reader knows, Christopher Columbus is about to “discover”.
At the end of the book, we don’t know what’s happened to Edward V, we aren’t clear on what this secret society is all about, we’re not clear on whether or not there’s going to be a link-up with the Ottomans at some point and we are presumably meant to be desperate to read the next book in the series, when it comes out, and find out exactly what is going on. And we’ve long since lost count of how many people have been casually murdered. And are left to assume that some people who vanished were casually murdered as well. But I didn’t feel that it really worked that well. It was just too disjointed. It wasn’t bad, but her first two series were far, far better.