Book review: Kingmaker: Kingdom Come by Toby Clements

Kingmaker: Kingdom Come by Toby Clements
Kingmaker: Kingdom Come by Toby Clements

It began on freezing February morning in Lincolnshire in 1460, took us up close to the bloody battlefields of England’s savage Wars of the Roses, and on to a decisive showdown at Tewkesbury in 1471.

Toby Clements’ epic Kingmaker series – perhaps one of the most impressive historical novel debuts ever – draws to a thrilling close in Kingdom Come, the fourth, final, spectacular book.

Clements has covered this tumultuous period of history with breathtaking and brutal detail but what has made it so exciting and original is his portrayal of the internecine conflict’s lesser known but pivotal players… the hardy frontline warriors who fought, suffered and died in some of the most barbaric battles ever fought on English soil.

During his years of research, Clements, who confesses to an obsession with the 15th century and the Wars of the Roses since childhood, discovered that the common folk of this period were tough, resourceful, resilient and clever, and he set out to write books which explored how they lived, loved, fought and died.

The result was Kingmaker, a series which has brought fresh impetus to the extraordinary history of the Wars of the Roses and a pulsating new perspective on the life and times of those caught up in decades of dynastic fighting.

It’s February of 1470 and Thomas Everingham and his wife Katherine, noted for her healing skills, are happily ensconced at their home, Marton Hall in Lincolnshire, with their young son Rufus. The Yorkist King Edward IV appears to be secure on his throne, and on friendly terms with the ambitious ‘Kingmaker’ Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, while the country enjoys ‘an imperfect peace.’

The Everinghams have been at the heart of ten years of plotting and counter-plotting in the struggle for the crown between the houses of Lancaster and York but now Thomas, a skilled archer who fought for the Yorkists, hopes that soon a man won’t have to build a home ‘with arrow slots and drawbridges, or keep a crossbow by the door.’

But as winter tightens its grip on the land, the peace is shattered by a vicious attack on the nearby home of Thomas Burgh, one of the king’s allies. The Earl of Warwick is linked to the raiders and the king is heading for Lincolnshire with an army… could it be a trap?

As tensions mount and the Everinghams’ long buried secrets – some ’as potent as a body in the plague pit’ – are brought to the surface, Thomas and Katherine must finally decide where their loyalties lie and choose between fight or flight, knowing either choice will incur a terrible price.

From Lincoln to Bruges, from Barnet to the great battle at Tewkesbury, both must play their part again in a war that has torn the country apart…

In the company of an author born to be a storyteller and who spent months at battle re-enactment fairs learning to use the longbow and fight with the poll axe, Kingmaker has been a thrilling, stomach-churning odyssey into the grime, gore and guts of the brutal medieval world.

The series is historical novel writing at its best, blending real and fictional characters into a dark and entertaining epic of authentic history and thrilling adventure, and endowing a powerful and revealing common touch to some of the biggest events in 15th century England.

Written in the present tense to give added impetus and immediacy to a vivid, fast-moving, all-action narrative, the books have a raw and potent energy and this last, brilliant chapter takes us to the end of the ‘middle spasm’ of the Wars of the Roses and finally solves the mystery that has dogged Thomas and Katherine’s lives.

Throughout the series, Clements has proved his exceptional grasp of not just the politics of this period but also the social and personal implications on the foot soldiers and their families. His stories open a window on to a vibrant and believable world in which old scores are settled on the big and small stage, battles are fought and lost, lives are destroyed and love is born.

Kingmaker is medieval life far removed from the sanitised accounts in many history books and if you haven’t yet discovered the series, best start at the beginning and work your way through… you won’t want to miss a word of it!

(Century, hardback, £20)