Into the Heart of War with Tony Riches
Fifteenth-century Europe was without question one of the most conflict-laden places in our history, with different factions constantly spilling each others’ blood from one generation to the next, nary taking a moment of respite to try and find peaceful solutions. From this whole chaos many different stories spawned, and one of the most remarkable ones is that of the Tudor dynasty whose members have overcome tremendous odds to become one of history’s most celebrated names. Tony Riches chose to chronicle the lives of these rather important people in his Tudor Trilogy, and has addressed the fate of Owen Tudor in the first book. In the second titled Jasper, we follow the titular Jasper Tudor, son of Owen, on his extraordinary odyssey of survival.
To give you the lay of the land, we are taken to 1461 England when King Edward of York seizes the country from King Henry VI by force and massacres his armies. Jasper Tudor manages to flee the grinder and plans on making a grand rebellion. Before that can come to fruition though, his half-brother King Henry is imprisoned and murdered, as is King Edward not long after, with his sons having disappeared without a trace. King Richard III is crowned as the new king to seal the vacuum, and in this period of uncertainty Jasper Tudor sees an opportunity for his young nephew Henry Tudor, and starts making the moves that will one day cause a crown to be placed on the latter’s head. Needless to say, in a time of war and social upheaval, politics can be just as deadly as a sword or an arrow, and many never made it out of those treacherous waters.
The Brutality of Aristocrats
Historical fiction novels must always tread a very fine line and achieve the perfect equilibrium between staying true to history and creating some form of entertainment. If a book veers too much to one side or the other, they run the risk of being either boring or feel unauthentic. I believe that Tony Riches has found the sweet spot for his works: while this book bears plenty of insight and information on that period of time, it never even once leaves the entertainment aspect out of sight. Riches stays true to history and it has shown that he did all the necessary research, but at the same time his way of conveying it is quite dynamic as he often finds the fascinating angle from which something can be examined.
The time period he has decided to cover is already chock-full of eventful battles, political chess games and stories of unbelievable resilience in the face of adversity… in other words, he had plenty to work with and there weren’t any big gaps that needed to be filled with imagination. As the story goes on it becomes a bit apparent that it is also an exploration of the European aristocracy during that time, and Tony Riches doesn’t shy away from taking us into the heart of its blood-lusting corruption with all the fine details that come with it. I feel that even if you aren’t exactly interested in that specific aspect of 15th century England, you will still find enjoyment in reading the author’s way of describing it. In other words, Riches has found a way to be both educative and entertaining in the same breath, and I feel the book is worth reading solely for its portrayal of a very complex time and place in human history.
A Tale of Heroes
Taking a look at the story of Jasper himself, it’s rather difficult to believe that the author didn’t embellish anything, and yet it’s true. The man had led an insanely remarkable life and seems to have escaped death more times than he could count. While the action does advanced at a rather quick pace, Tony Riches never neglects to develop Jasper and does so through every means method, including his thoughts, actions and dialogues. In my opinion he makes for a very likeable protagonist I had no trouble following at all… even if at times he seemed a little too perfect, though I have to give him the benefit of the doubt considering how history remembers him. The author succeeds in bringing to life a figure whose will and resolve seemed of an otherworldly nature, and what’s more, he’s surrounded by a cast no less interesting than himself.
Indeed, there are plenty of other historical figures we get acquainted with, different factions and aspiring leaders, all trying to plot their own path to victory. While the descriptions of some of them are quite less favorable than for others, I feel like in the end, the author still managed to portray them as people trying to get the most out of a situation, just like everyone else around them. While some were looking at methods more vile than others, they were all heroes in their own tales. Of course, these descriptions should be taken with a grain of salt for I am certain that the historical depictions of various people will differ depending on the sources.
The Final Verdict
The second book of the Tudor Trilogy is a prime example of how a work of historical fiction can be both massively entertaining and educational at the same time. Jasper is every bit as good as the first book, and if the fate of the Tudor dynasty is something you’d like to get better acquainted with (without having to open a textbook), then I’d say you can’t go wrong with this one.