This is the second in Livi Michael’s trilogy of novels telling the story of the Wars of the Roses from the perspectives of Margaret Beaufort and Margaret of Anjou. After reading the first book, Succession, a few months ago I was keen to continue with the trilogy; Rebellion picks up directly where Succession ended, but as long as you have some knowledge of the period, it’s not really essential to have read the previous novel before starting this one. I’m not going to go into the background to the Wars of the Roses here, though; if you’re not already familiar with it, I’ll refer you to my review of Succession so I don’t bore you by repeating myself!
Rebellion begins shortly after the Battle of Towton, often described as the bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil, which ended in disaster for the House of Lancaster and put a new Yorkist king on the throne – Edward IV. The defeated Henry VI and his wife, Margaret of Anjou, have fled to Scotland and from there Margaret travels to France to plead for help from the French king. Determined to win back the throne for Lancaster and secure the inheritance of her young son, Prince Edward, she eventually returns to England to lead an army into battle against York once again.
We also follow the story of another mother, Margaret Beaufort, whose only son, Henry Tudor, has been taken from her to be raised in the household of a guardian, William Herbert, at Raglan Castle in Wales. Margaret wants nothing more than to be reunited with Henry and can’t bear to think of him growing up in someone else’s care – but Henry is also a Lancastrian heir and it seems that there are people more powerful than Margaret who are making other plans for him.
Rebellion has a wide scope, encompassing most of the key events which occur from 1462-1471 and incorporating many important historical figures of the period from Edward IV and his wife, Elizabeth Woodville, to Margaret Beaufort’s husband (her third), Henry Stafford, and the family of the Earl of Warwick, known as the Kingmaker. We also have our first glimpses of Edward’s younger brother, Richard of Gloucester, who I’m sure we’ll be seeing much more of in the final novel. The characterisation is generally quite well done; my only problem was with the portrayal of Edward IV. I know he wasn’t perfect and, like his grandson Henry VIII, is said to have become fat and gluttonous as he approached middle age, but even so, I don’t think we really needed such graphic descriptions of his bodily functions!
As in the first novel, though, the main focus is on the lives of the two Margarets. I think both of these women are great subjects for historical fiction and both have interesting stories to be told; neither is particularly likeable, but their emotions, ambitions and thought processes are convincingly described. I could feel for Margaret of Anjou as she struggled to keep the Lancastrian hopes alive and I could sympathise with Margaret Beaufort as she suffered the pain of being separated from her beloved son.
I preferred this book to the first one, I think; I found it easier to get into, probably because the first few chapters concentrate on one character (Margaret of Anjou) so the narrative is more continuous at the beginning instead of jumping from one perspective to the next – although there’s plenty of that later in the book. The most notable thing about the previous book, Succession, was the use of medieval chronicles, from which quotes are given at the beginning or end of almost every chapter in such a way that they form a large part of the story. The author uses the same method again in this book, but the extracts seem to be used more sparingly than in the first one, so that they add an interesting angle to the novel without being too much of a distraction.
Rebellion, then, has its good points and its bad, but there’s no doubt that it’s set during a fascinating time in England’s history. Something that comes across strongly in this novel is the uncertainty of the period and the way in which fortunes can unexpectedly rise or fall and hopes and dreams can be destroyed in an instant:
“None of this is as we initially planned,” Warwick said, gazing intently at his son-in-law. “And none of it is set in stone.”
I’m looking forward now to reading Accession, the novel which will bring the trilogy to a close.
Thanks to the publisher, Penguin, for providing a review copy of this book.