John, Duke of Bedford, grew to manhood fighting for his father, King Henry IV of England, on the wild and lawless Northern Marches. He was a prince of the royal blood, loyal, strong, and the greatest ally that his brother – the future Henry V – was to have. Filled with the clash of bitter rivalries and deadly power struggles, this is Georgette Heyer’s last and most ambitious novel, bringing to life a character and a period she found irresistibly attractive.
I really wanted to like this novel. I went into it expecting to like it. I have really enjoyed the other works that I’ve read by Georgette Heyer and as you all know, I love historical fiction. I just could not love this book, though, much as I tried.
First there is the language. Heyer appears to have really tried to write this novel in the language of the fifteenth century. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work the way she intended. Instead, it feels stilted and unfamiliar, even to one who has spent hours trying to figure out what fifteenth century people meant when they used all these words that have fallen out of the language or when they used words which don’t mean what they now mean. I think the fifty to seventy-five years in between my work and this book make a difference because these are unquestionably proper words, but I was unfamiliar with them and they make the book a slow, slow read.
If a reader of this book has no knowledge of the history or people involved, it will constitute even more of a struggle. Even though I have a fairly comprehensive knowledge of Henry IV’s reign, I had to refer to the family tree several times and even wished I’d taken notes so I could keep track of the various names used to refer to one person. This is the first instance that I’ve wished for a character list, which I’ve seen in a few fantasy novels, just so I could remember who people were.
Those two problems combined with the fact that this book has no real plot and is merely a meandering through history, which isn’t even complete, made this book a slow one for me. In the end, I didn’t see the point. I didn’t find it enjoyable and I wasn’t searching for a resolution to a story because I knew there wasn’t one. I think that if someone was extremely interested in the reign of Henry IV’s reign and wanted to read this alongside some comprehensive history over a lengthy period of time, it would work better. It is historically accurate to the best of my knowledge, but I guess this just goes to show that it also takes a well told story for a compelling work of historical fiction. I wish Heyer had applied her considerable talents, so clearly on display in her Regencies, to this novel as well. I would recommend those instead.