Set in the 14th century during the reigns of Edward III and Richard II, Lion of Alnwick tells the story of Henry (Hal) Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland. The novel begins in the year 1357 and ends in 1409, covering all the major events of Hal’s adult life including his marriage to Margaret Neville, sister of his bitter enemy and rival Northern lord, his conflict with John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, and his relationship with his son Harry “Hotspur” Percy.
Before I say any more about this great historical fiction novel, I should point out that this book has now sadly gone out of print, but for anyone who loves fiction set in medieval England it is definitely worth reading if you can manage to find a copy. Please don’t let the cover (pictured above) put you off – it has to be one of the worst covers I’ve ever seen and is really not representative of the quality of the story!
I can’t remember how this book first came to my attention, but the reason it appealed to me is because I only live an hour away from Alnwick and have been there several times (usually to visit the castle, the gardens or Barter Books) so I was attracted by the mention of Alnwick in the title. There are so few books that focus on the north east of England that whenever I do come across one I always feel I should read it (though of course, with this novel being so epic in scale, the action is not just confined to Northumberland but also sweeps down to York and Westminster and across to Wales).
The story concentrates on Hal, his son Harry, and their respective wives, Margaret Neville and Elizabeth Mortimer, but we also meet lots of other fascinating characters, most of them real historical figures of the period. One of the most intriguing characters, I thought, was Hal’s enemy from over the border in Scotland, Archibald Douglas, known as The Black Douglas. His rivalry with Hal is a recurring theme throughout the novel and I looked forward to all of their encounters. I also thought the characterisation of Richard II as a young and incompetent king unable to command the respect of his men while bestowing gifts and titles on his favourites, was very well done.
The author does seem to assume that the reader already has a good knowledge of the period; the history becomes very complex and detailed, so this is the type of historical fiction novel I would recommend only to readers who really do love history! It’s such a shame this book is out of print; it was very well-written and well-researched, maybe not as much fun to read as a Sharon Penman or Elizabeth Chadwick novel, but almost as good. If you’re interested in reading this book I would suggest trying to get a copy of this one and the other two in the trilogy (Lion Dormant and Lion Invincible) as soon as you can, before they become impossible to find!