Kingmaker: Divided Souls by Toby Clements – Review
By Matthew Walker
Divided Souls is the third instalment of Toby Clements’ ‘Kingmaker’ series, which is set during the 15th century in the midst of the Wars of the Roses – which is probably best summed up as English history’s very own game of thrones.
Although a sequel to Winter Pilgrims and Broken Faith, Divided Souls can be enjoyed as part of the series, or as an enthralling story in its own right.
There are references to the events and characters of the previous novels, but even without knowing the full back story, enough is implied about their outcome that no prior knowledge is required – and nothing is really spoiled either, allowing readers to go back and still enjoy the first two books.
The author Toby Clements became gripped with the Wars of the Roses after visiting Tewkesbury Abbey on a school trip, and learning about how the Lancastrian claim to the throne was effectively ended following a vicious battle in 1471.
Since then, Clements read everything he could lay his hands on, and spent many-a-day at re-enactment fairs learning to use the weaponry of the time, including a long bow and a poleaxe, and to tan leather. With all of this hands-on experience, it is no wonder the ‘Kingmaker’ series, while set against the backdrop of the struggles of the high and mighty, focuses instead on the effect of this turbulence on the common folk, tapping into themes of resourcefulness and resilience.
The author uses his intricate knowledge of this period to bring the history to life and present readers with an exceptionally vivid depiction of the often grim and gritty reality of ordinary life in that time.
Whenever anyone mentions the Wars of the Roses, it is often summed up as the rivalry between the houses of York and Lancaster over which dynasty rules England. However, you don’t need to delve much deeper to realise that there’s a lot more to this turbulent period of English history than that.
As Divided Souls starts, the last battle between these two factions is a not too distant memory. The Yorkist King Edward IV sits on the throne, and his Lancastrian rivals and their supporters are either locked up (including Henry VI), in exile, or slain in battle.
However, trouble is brewing in the King’s court. The monarch has taken a new queen, Elizabeth Woodville, whose ambitious family are now finding themselves in positions of favour. The Earl of Warwick, the Kingmaker to whom Edward arguably owes his throne, is furious at this union, and is now possibly plotting to overthrow the King. As the prologue makes clear, face-to-face everyone is all smiles, but nobody turns up to court unarmed.
Set against this backdrop, the story catches up with Thomas Everingham, a humble archer who fought in the recent battles, including the Battle of Towton and the fall of Bamburgh Castle. In this time of relative peace, Thomas and his wife Kathrine have retired to raise their young son Rufus on the estate of Sir John Fakenham in Lincolnshire. However, when Sir John dies, they find themselves facing homelessness.
“Sympathy for the protagonists”
Luckily Lord Hastings, who recalls Thomas from his past deeds as a warrior, offers them chance to run an estate he’s been granted on a key thoroughfare in Yorkshire, but there is a catch – they must become be his eyes and ears in the area, and to seek out a ledger which is said to hold a devastating secret about the King.
Unbeknown to Lord Hastings, Thomas and his wife already possess the ledger in question, and realise their knowledge of the book puts them in a dangerous situation – especially when faced with an old foe, who the mere mention of his name is enough to make their blood run cold.
What Toby Clements excels at is creating sympathy for the protagonists. They’ve witnessed some of the bloodiest fighting in English history, and now simply wish to live a quiet life and raise their son in peace. But, it seems the horrors of their past lives continue to haunt them, and as Katherine muses at one point: “We’ve had five good years, and we have Rufus. Perhaps that is all the happiness you can expect in one lifetime.”
Thomas and Katherine know they are merely pawns in a much bigger game, and readers get to follow as these humble folk in Yorkshire become embroiled in a plot that could go all the way to the top at Westminster.
‘Kingmaker: Divided Souls’ by Toby Clements is published in paperback by Arrow, £8.99