Kingmaker: Toby Clements
Hardcover: 560 pages
Publisher: Century (10 April 2014)
Product Dimensions: 24 x 15.6 x 5.1 cm
February, 1460: in the bitter dawn of a winter’s morning a young nun is caught outside her priory walls by a corrupt knight and his vicious retinue.
In the fight that follows, she is rescued by a young monk and the knight is defeated. But the consequences are far-reaching, and Thomas and Katherine are expelled from their religious Orders and forced to flee across a land caught in the throes of one of the most savage and bloody civil wars in history: the Wars of the Roses.
Their flight will take them across the NarrowSea to Calais where Thomas picks up his warbow, and trains alongside the Yorkist forces. Katherine, now dressed as a man, hones her talents for observation and healing both on and off the fields of battle. And all around them, friends and enemies fight and die as the future Yorkist monarch, Edward, Earl of March, and his adviser the Earl of Warwick, later to become known as the Kingmaker, prepare to do bloody battle.
Encompassing the battles of Northampton, Mortimer’s Cross and finally the great slaughter of Towton, this is war as experienced not by the highborn nobles of the land but by ordinary men and women who do their best just to stay alive. Filled with strong, sympathetic characters, this is a must-read series for all who like their fiction action-packed, heroic and utterly believable.
I have Ben Kane to thank for this fantastic read, When an author of his calibre posts about a book “‘Magnificent. An historical tour de force, revealing Clements to be a novelist every bit as good as Cornwell, Gregory or Iggulden. Kingmaker is the best book I’ve read this year ? by some margin.’ Ben Kane” You have to sit up and take notice.
What I didn’t expect was the scope and style of the book. Having just read excellent Stormbird by Conn Iggulden, set in roughly the same period, i had some expectations set for how a War of the Roses book should play out. Toby Clements took those expectations and stood them on their head. Instead of a book driven by the power houses of history, a book lit and led by the great and the powerful, Toby starts in a humble monastery/ nunnery, and from their takes the reader on one of the most down to earth profound journeys I have been privileged to read in this genre. Thomas is a man living the life of a monk, a man with skills and education, but a man who finds out he has depths he had not explored, skills he didn’t expect to have or use, and that life is more than just the walls of a Monastery, and a people are more than they seem, life isn’t black and white, its many shades of grey.
Katherine, living in a nunnery, but slightly apart, a young woman with a missing past, and an uncertain future, one that isn’t helped by the continual abuse from her superiors.
One day, one event, one action changes both their lives, and slingshots them on a journey of exploration, self examination and adventure. But none of it is glorified, it is set at the coal face of life, and battle and history. Surrounded by the blood and butchery of every class of man, buffeted by the changing politics of the times and changed by the havoc of war, killing and death surrounding them. At 560 pages its not a small read, but I could have read 2060 pages and not been bored, is series has so much to offer and so much promise of more. As its a 2014 title it will not feature in my books of 2013, otherwise it would be winner of the top spot. The established order will need to work very hard to beat this in 2014.
Very highly recommended
Toby, thank you for a wonderful read and for allowing me to review it. Thank you also for agreeing to answer these questions
1: So who is Toby Clements? I am a journalist, I suppose, since that is the job I’ve held the longest – on the books pages of the Daily Telegraph – but it is only one of many that I have given up on because I’ve never really grasped the point of being good – by which I mean the best I can be – at anything other than writing. So I’ve never wanted to become a manager, or get on the board of a company, or become a partner, or run my own business, even if I had the talent to do so, which I probably don’t, since the only thing my heart has ever really been in, is writing. For most areas of my life my motto is “it’ll do” but for some reason I have always tried to write as well as I possibly can.
2: With the whole of recorded history at your disposal, why the War of the Roses?
Three things: the first was this book
I read it when I was about ten until it fell apart.
The second was this door:
It is the Sacristy door at Tewkesbury Abbey, reinforced by strips of armour taken from remnants left after the battle there fought in 1471. After the battle the Lancastrian claimants to the throne were killed in the nave of the abbey, despite having claimed sanctuary, and the place had to be reconsecrated afterwards. I do not think you are allowed to touch the door now, but I was taken there on a school trip when I was about 12 and have never forgotten a sort of electric jolt I imagined I got when I touched it.
The third thing was – were? – two great teachers – Colin Stoupe (English) and Hugh Fairey (History) – who knew what made boys tick, and could fire up weird and wild enthusiasms. It was they who took me to Tewksbury. Perhaps this Great Teacher thing is a bit of cliché, but it remains true, and I owe them a real debt of gratitude.
3.What led you to use the slant of the common man rather than picking one of the great men of history to follow? I am not sure. Possibly I started out reading everything I could about the Great and the Good – witness the Ladybird Book above – and I may have reacted against those early enthusiasms? And I have come to dislike romantic takes on the period, especially if they involve any misunderstood brooding hero called Dickon who is constantly patting his horse’s muscular neck, which is a Wars of the Roses trope. Or then again the more I looked into the 15th Century, into the facts behind the dates as it were, the more impressed I became with the way in which the common man and woman just got by, against steep odds, and just kept on going. Or, possibly, it reflects my own taste in life? I like scruffy things and scruffy people without that sense of self entitlement you have to have if you are going to be a proper medieval earl. I genuinely don’t think I would have liked the earl of Warwick if I’d met him as a man, or even William Hastings, whom I paint in a good light in my novel.
4: What inspired you to write your first book? I had an image of the battle of Towton and how bloody awful it must have been to fight all day in the snow. I wondered what could have brought so many Englishmen from so far afield to come try to kill each other in such horrible ways. And their fathers would have fought shoulder to shoulder in France, remember.
5: What books and authors have most influenced your life most? When the Lion Feeds by Wilbur Smith was the first “grown-up” book I read on my own and I remember thinking Woah! This is ace. Really salty. Few books have had such an impact since though I have at various times been an avid reader of Patrick O’Brian, Dorothy Dunnett, Elmore Leonard and Alan Furst. A mixed bag, as you see.
6: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor? I like the element of compulsion here! Do you mean mentor as in who influenced me to write as I do? Or whom would I want help from in the future, like Louis on the X factor? If the first, then… Hmmm. I just don’t know. I am a magpie, like most writers I bet, and I know I have borrowed a bit from here and a bit from there, so I suppose it would have to be a very strange looking composite of Hilary Mantel and Bernard Cornwell, each rolling their eyes at the other. Bernard would be telling Hilary no one cares what he – Thomas – thinks and she would be telling him not to start another sentence with “and” or “because”. If you mean the latter, then I’d like my Louis to be Wilbur Smith, I think. Or Harold Robbins! Dead now of course, and a horrible man I’ve read, but he could tell a story, couldn’t he?
7: What was the hardest part of writing your book? I find telling stories the most difficult thing. I am not a natural at it at all. Early drafts of this book were all “this happened and then that happened”, and though they all seemed plausible enough, I’d look at them and wonder why anyone would ever care if they had happened or not. Hence my call to Harold Robbins above. Though I am sure he would play very fast and loose with historical accuracy.
8: Who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work? I have many but at the moment I have to say it is Hilary Mantel. I love her sprawling yet meticulous characterisation, the way she gets around into different heads and makes their thoughts and actions totally compelling, totally plausible. Her use of research is fascinating, too. There is one paragraph in Wolf Hall when Thomas Cromwell wonders why Thomas Moore thinks he is evil, and he wonders if Moore thinks the Devil crept in to corrupt Cromwell with the hawthorn branches that were used to resuscitate the fire in the bread oven in the morning, or with the washing or something else I cannot now recall. In that short paragraph she gives you a brief, bright jewel like glimpse of what life must have been like for low status individuals nearly 500 years ago, but it is all about something else. What she does not do very well is huge battles though, involving men with long bows, and others smacking the crap out of one another with blunt instruments, so she still has some things to learn!
Many thanks and I hope the book is the utter success it deserves to be