Book review: Kingmaker: Divided Souls by Toby Clements

Divided Souls byToby Clements
Divided Souls byToby Clements
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As the royal Houses of Lancaster and York wage their brutal internecine war for the English throne, families across the land struggle to eke out a living and simply stay alive.

In 1469, after a five-year lull in the bitter Wars of the Roses, many hope for a lasting peace… but trouble is brewing in the York family, a new and bitter feud that will see more lives lost in one of the most savage conflicts in English history.

Welcome back to the third book in Toby Clements’ outstanding Kingmaker series which has brought fresh impetus to this turbulent period of history and a thrilling new perspective on the lives of those caught up in decades of dynastic fighting.

During his years of research, Clements, who confesses to an obsession with the 15th century and the Wars of the Roses since childhood, discovered that the common folk of this period were tough, resourceful, resilient and clever, and he set out to write an epic series that explored how they lived, loved, fought and died.

Divided Souls, which follows on from Winter Pilgrims and Broken Faith, picks up the story of Thomas Everingham, a former priest anda former priest and skilled archer, his wife Katherine, a gifted healer, and their young son Rufus, who have been living under the protection of their friend and Yorkist supporter Sir John Fakenham in Lincolnshire.

At Lent in 1469, the recent wars between the Houses of York and Lancaster seem to be over. The Yorkist King Edward IV has been on the throne for eight years, while the ageing and feeble Lancastrian King Henry VI is under lock and key in the Tower and his wife and son in exile in France.

But King Edward has a simple but fatal human flaw… a liking for pretty face. Against the wishes of his royal ally and Kingmaker, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, Edward has secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, a widowed mother of two sons from an ambitious and self-seeking family.

Their union has sparked a dangerous conflict with Warwick and while to one another’s faces the two men are all smiles, their household men speak in lies and whispers, letters have flown to arch-meddlers overseas and no man comes to court unarmed.

For Thomas and Katherine Everingham, the past few years have been a haven of tranquillity after the horrors of war and struggle. They are happily living at Marton Hall, the only home they know, alongside kindly Sir John Fakenham and his wife Isabella.

But now Sir John has died and his sons want the Everinghams booted off their land. Their only chance of escape is to take up a double-edged offer from Thomas’s old military ally Lord William Hastings, King Edward’s chamberlain and procurer.

It will mean moving to Hastings’ newly acquired manor house in Ryedale, north of York, where Thomas and Katherine will help to care for the estates… and to act as unofficial spies for any hint of rebellion or uprising orchestrated by the scheming Earl of Warwick.

It’s a dangerous role, and one made even more perilous when secrets buried in the past come back to haunt the couple and they are steered once more into the path of Edmund Riven, a man with only one aim… to seek deadly revenge on Thomas and Katherine.

This brilliant, vividly real and fast-moving series shows no sign of flagging; indeed, Clements’ writing continues to impress with its raw, potent energy and his exceptional grasp of not just the politics of this period of history but also the social and personal implications on the foot soldiers and their families.

From the castles of the highborn to the hovels and humble homes of the lowborn, and from rural Lincolnshire to the killing fields of the Battle of Edgecote Moor in Oxfordshire, readers bear witness to self-seeking, political power play, cruel hardships, vicious warfare and the small domestic struggles as old scores are settled on both the big and small stage.

The Kingmaker series is historical novel writing at its best, blending real and fictional characters into a dark and entertaining tale of authentic history and thrilling adventure, and endowing a powerful and revealing common touch to some of the biggest events in 15th century England.

The fourth and final book in this remarkable odyssey can’t come too soon…

(Century, hardback, £16.99)