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Book review: Wyvern and Star by Sophy Boyle

This exciting new novel is set against one of the most dramatic periods in English history, the Wars of the Roses.

 

That tumultuous struggle of the fifteenth century saw the throne of England pass –  several times over – between the rival houses of York and Lancaster before it was eventually won by an offshoot of the Lancastrian line, the Tudors.

 

With its heady mix of treachery, bloody battles and dynastic rivalries, it’s no wonder that the explosive contest for the crown has long fascinated so many, from historians to playwrights and novelists – including Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin.

 

While most novelists writing on this period choose to focus on the house of York, Sophy Boyle has instead based her new series Wyvern and Star on the Lancastrians, no strangers themselves to intrigue and bloodletting.

 

Wars of the Roses devotee Boyle has taken the unusual line of weaving the story around fictional lead characters backed by a large supporting cast of real historical figures.

 

At the heart of the action is the fictional Robert Clifford, a flawed character; a daring but vengeful man who squanders his gifts and his chances, giving rein to short-sighted and self-destructive impulses.

 

The book sets out its stall with the opening chapter, a disturbingly vivid and brutal recollection of the slaying of a young foe. Though a hardened soldier, Clifford cannot forget his involvement in this shameful murder, and we soon learn that this is only one among a number of regrets haunting him.

 

This novel – the first in a series of seven – spans the years 1470-71, the beginning of the second phase of the conflict. Clifford, a staunch Lancastrian, means to bring his fortunes back from the brink with an audacious plot to invade England, wrest the crown from the Yorkist king Edward IV and return the imprisoned Lancastrian Henry VI to power.

 

As the novel begins he’s emerging from a dark decade of penniless exile into what he hopes will be a more favourable future with Alice de Vere, the woman he loves. But Alice, who’s both fascinated and horrified by Clifford’s menacing reputation, turns his schemes on their head when she marries instead Edmond Beaufort, Duke of Somerset – leader of the Lancastrian faction and Clifford’s erstwhile friend.

 

The book follows the parallel stories of Clifford and Alice, along with a cast of impressively-drawn characters whose lives are inextricably linked with those of the ill-starred pair. While Clifford’s faithful follower Loic Moncler is a solid and loyal confidant throughout, others in the inner circle reveal themselves to be scarcely less treacherous than the enemy. Clifford’s eldest son, Hal, harbours feelings of his own for Alice, while younger son Aymer has inherited all his father’s ruthless ambition.

 

As the novel races towards its battle-scarred climax, Clifford and the Lancastrian alliance come tantalisingly close to victory, but all is jeopardised by rivalry and betrayal within their own faction.

 

Packed with vivid detail, evocative prose and a thrilling, twisting plot, Wyvern and Star offers an utterly engrossing and escapist read. Its streak of gallows humour and the modern voice keep it fresh, ensuring readers with a taste for hard-edged historical fiction will lap it up.

 

Wyvern and Star sets the scene for an equally explosive second installment, expected to be released later this year.

 

Wyvern and Star by Sophy Boyle is out now, priced £8.99 in paperback and £3.99 as an eBook. Visit www.wyvernandstar.com to find out more.

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