It’s 1455 and England is heading towards civil war. Henry VI is still on the throne but he is a weak ruler and there are many who think he is not fit to be King. The Duke of York believes his claim is stronger than Henry’s and with the support of some of England’s most powerful noblemen he is determined to win the crown for himself. The scene is set for the period of history that will become known as the Wars of the Roses.
In Roseblood we meet two men who are on opposite sides of the conflict. Simon Roseblood is a Lancastrian, loyal to Henry VI and his wife, Margaret of Anjou. As the owner of a busy London tavern, Roseblood is in an ideal position to be able to obtain information and intelligence that will help the Lancaster cause. But while Roseblood is doing all he can in support of his king, he also has business of a more personal nature to attend to. Five years earlier, his brother, Edmund Roseblood, was murdered during a rebellion led by Jack Cade. Simon has reason to believe that the men responsible were members of the mysterious gang known only as LeCorbeil and he knows he must find a way to avenge his brother’s death.
Amadeus Sevigny is the nephew of the Sheriff of London and clerk to Richard, Duke of York. As a loyal Yorkist, Sevigny is in direct opposition to Simon Roseblood and they are first drawn together when Sevigny tries to frame Roseblood for a crime he didn’t commit – only to discover that Roseblood is his equal when it comes to plotting and scheming. Their paths cross again in a race to hunt down a man who possesses information which would be damaging to both Lancaster and York, but it could be Roseblood’s daughter, Katherine, who holds the key to bringing their rivalry to an end. And throughout all of this, LeCorbeil wait in the background for their chance to complete their destruction of the Roseblood family…
I have read a lot of novels set during the Wars of the Roses (it’s one of my favourite periods of history) but Roseblood is not like any of the others I’ve read and is actually quite a difficult book to describe. It’s a mixture of history, mystery and intrigue with a large cast of colourful characters – many with Dickensian names such as Candlemas, Wormwood and Skulkin. It’s an unusual novel and not really what I’d expected at all! While I found it confusing at the beginning (we are given a lot of historical information in the opening sections, and being thrown straight into one of Sevigny’s schemes and Roseblood’s attempts to thwart it, I struggled to follow exactly what was happening) I eventually found myself drawn into this fascinating, complex story.
Although the novel is set at the beginning of the Wars of the Roses and historical figures such as Henry VI and the Duke of York do make brief appearances, the focus is always on the lives of the fictional characters. Much of the story is told from the perspectives of Roseblood and Sevigny, but there are also some chapters which give us the points of view of Roseblood’s son, Raphael, and daughter, Katherine. I didn’t find Raphael very interesting, but I thought Katherine, with her obsession with Arthurian legend and her imaginary friend, Melisaunde, was a much more memorable character.
Doherty seems to be an author who knows London well – not just London as it is today but as it was in medieval times too – and each location, whether it’s a marketplace, a church or a tavern, is described in minute detail. It was actually a bit too descriptive for me at times – almost like walking down a busy street and having your senses assailed by so many sounds, sights and smells that you start to feel overwhelmed – but I’m sure other readers will love the level of detail he goes into. I was certainly left with the impression that he had thoroughly researched every aspect of both the setting and the time period, which is obviously a good thing!
I’m surprised that I’ve never come across Paul Doherty before, as he appears to have written a huge number of historical novels, many of them mysteries, under several different pseudonyms. I would like to try more of his books, though as there are so many I have no idea where I should start. I’ll also be looking out for a sequel to Roseblood – the way it ended with so much still unresolved, I’ll be disappointed if there isn’t one!
Thanks to Headline for providing a review copy via NetGalley.