The Wars of the Roses is one of my favourite periods of history to read about and I’m always looking out for new books, both fiction and non-fiction, that explore the key events, colourful figures and controversial mysteries of this fascinating era.
Ethan Bale’s new novel, Hawker and the King’s Jewel, begins just before the Battle of Bosworth in August 1485 with King Richard III summoning his loyal knight, Sir John Hawker, to send him on one last mission. Richard possesses a valuable jewel, one of the legendary Tears of Byzantium, and he wants Hawker to return it to its previous owner, the Doge of Venice. He also has another request to make of Hawker – to take care of his illegitimate son, Sir Giles Ellingham, who is unaware of his true parentage. Hawker promises to carry out both tasks, but when Richard falls in battle and Henry Tudor takes the crown, the situation becomes much more dangerous. Not only are those who supported Richard now seen as traitors, but Sir Giles could become a focus for both Tudor and Yorkist conspiracies.
The action moves from Bosworth to Flanders and then on to Venice, where most of the story unfolds. Hawker is accompanied by his young squire and a small band of mercenary soldiers, so you can expect some battle scenes, as well as smaller-scale fights and skirmishes (including the mock battles known as battagliola, staged on the bridges of medieval Venice). I was concerned at first that there would be too much of this in the book for my taste, but that wasn’t the case and there were plenty of other things to hold my interest – some political intrigue, a fascinating theory to explain the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, and even a touch of romance as we discover that Hawker has been in Venice before and left a lover behind there.
Although Sir John Hawker is the main character, the other men who make up his little band become more fully developed as the book progresses. I found one of them particularly intriguing as his motives for remaining with Hawker’s company seem to change continuously as he reassesses the political situation and tries to decide whether loyalty or betrayal will be more to his advantage. There’s also an interesting female character – a Hungarian noblewoman with her eye on the jewel Hawker is carrying – and her storyline helps to carry the novel through to its conclusion.
It seems that this is the first book in a planned series, Swords of the White Rose. I’ll be looking out for the next one.
Thanks to Canelo Adventure for providing a copy of this book for review.
This is book 48/50 read for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022.