Monday 18 January 2016

Reviewed: Blood and Roses by Catherine Hokin

Blood and Roses was published by Yolk Publishing on January 11, 2016.

Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Tense; engaging; power; deceit; betrayal

Blood and Roses is Catherine Hokin’s debut novel, a gripping historical fiction novel based on Margaret of Anjou, wife to Henry VI. Set in the 1400s, Blood and Roses addresses the historical period of the Wars of the Roses, and what it was like to be in Margaret’s position at that time with the power, the pressure and the conflict. I can’t claim to have started reading Blood and Roses with a great deal of Wars of the Roses knowledge - any real interest in history that I have has come in recent times from the various engaging historical novels I’ve chosen to read – but Blood and Roses was a highly compelling retelling and a really impressive debut that I powered my way through in one sitting.

Margaret was once a na├»vely optimistic young woman ahead of her marriage to Henry VI, King of England. Marriage would put her in the position of power, of respect, of providing an heir to the throne. As the story goes, we see a real development in Margaret’s attitude as she discovers her life isn’t going to work out quite as simple as that. Once married, Henry is very withdrawn from her, his only talk is of God and he looks to have little, if any, interest in his wife, instead becoming a ghostly figure of little affection. The answer is – of course – for Henry and Margaret to have a son, as it is expected that with marriage comes the new heir. But as the years pass, the loveless, sexless marriage sees that no child is conceived and in turn, Margaret’s character and temperament changes. I found the desperation she possessed fascinating to read, and how it led her to make choices she’d once have never considered, becoming more selfish and manipulative with each passing day. She was an interesting character to read about.

Catherine’s storytelling showed use of a ton of research – from the characters to their allegiances and betrayals, the conflict and the battles, the judgment and representation of Margaret, the dialogue and the insight into life in that period of time. I would have loved a bit more detail on the style of that time to allow a stronger picture of appearances and settings to form in my mind, but that’s really just a minor point because I was enjoying the narrative so much, I ended up wanting more. The sign of a good historical book – for me – is when the moment you’ve finished, all you want to do is Google and consume more information and background on the era you’ve been reading about and that’s exactly what I did here because Catherine quite effortlessly drew me into the story of the Wars of the Roses, making me want to learn more.

As I settled into the story and the narrative progressed, the tension within the characters built up, as did the power games, and I was more and more hooked with every turn of the page. Set in a time where women are merely seen to be there to give birth and little else, it was satisfying seeing Margaret attempt to take control and change the course of history. For readers who know the history, the author’s creative manner of filling in the gaps provides a few surprises to the plot and the style of writing is in such a way that the pace pulls you in, commandeering your attention right through to the end where there’s the momentary need to remind yourself to take a breath. Blood and Roses is an extremely engrossing read and I for one am looking forward to reading future books from this author.

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