I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Published by Cornerstone Digital on April 10th
Genres: Historical Fiction
February, 1460: in the bitter dawn of a winter's morning a young nun is caught outside her priory walls by a corrupt knight and his vicious retinue.
In the fight that follows, she is rescued by a young monk and the knight is defeated. But the consequences are far-reaching, and Thomas and Katherine are expelled from their religious Orders and forced to flee across a land caught in the throes of one of the most savage and bloody civil wars in history: the Wars of the Roses.
Their flight will take them across the Narrow Sea to Calais where Thomas picks up his warbow, and trains alongside the Yorkist forces. Katherine, now dressed as a man, hones her talents for observation and healing both on and off the fields of battle. And all around them, friends and enemies fight and die as the future Yorkist monarch, Edward, Earl of March, and his adviser the Earl of Warwick, later to become known as the Kingmaker, prepare to do bloody battle.
Encompassing the battles of Northampton, Mortimer's Cross and finally the great slaughter of Towton, this is war as experienced not by the highborn nobles of the land but by ordinary men and women who do their best just to stay alive. Filled with strong, sympathetic characters, this is a must-read series for all who like their fiction action-packed, heroic and utterly believable.
The Wars of the Roses is a very difficult topic to cover; considering the countless parties of interests and the constantly changing tenuous loyalties, but here is a book that does it well.
Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims is the story of monastic canon Thomas Everingham, and nun Katherine, who are of the same diocese and meet unexpectedly one night when they are attacked outside cloister walls while attending to their duties. After Thomas defends Katherine and the nun accompanying her, their violent attacker promises retribution, in the form of rape, murder and the destruction of their order. Only a night thereafter, both Katherine and Thomas are forced to leave their orders, due to the individualized fallout of that night – Thomas is forced to confront their attacker when he arrives demanding Thomas’s life, and Katherine suffers at the hands of the prioress which leads to confrontation. Both are left with no choice but to flee. Unfortunately, Katherine had been brought to the nunnery as an oblate and therefore knows no other life, while what little remains of Thomas’s family would welcome him.
The story then follows these two as they avoid being declared apostates, and end up in the service of nobles (with Katherine disguised as a young boy named ‘Kit’ for a majority of the book), which inevitably leads to direct involvement in many conflicts of the Wars of the Roses. Forced out of their religious lives, the two are made to confront a world they barely know, which is tumultuous and rife with conflict and war. Thomas becomes a seasoned archer who earns the favor of high ranking York nobles including Edward of York, and Katherine develops an extraordinary gift for healing and surgery, which benefits even the Earl of Warwick.
Before I can discuss what I liked about this book, it has to be said that this entire book is written in present tense. This is an extremely odd choice on the author’s part and can require some getting used to. It is especially an odd choice for a history novel, for more than any other form of book, history novels are referring to the past and not something happening right NOW. So, expect a little awkwardness as you grow accustomed to this.
This book is violence, through and through. I do not say that as a negative for it is very reflective of the time period, and respectful of the context. The unwarranted and unfair violence that opens this book is highly representative of the volatility that characterizes England in the later 15th century, and also comments on the paradoxes of monastic life, where cruelty from the outside was equally mirrored by the cruelty within. Following through various wars, the violence that permeates all aspects of life robs Thomas and Katherine of their innocence and often leaves them questioning God’s choices, and their own directions.
Because this book doesn’t shy away from violence, it is unsurprising that the gruesomeness of Early Modern medicine is treated with the same candid approach. There are graphic detailings of an anal fistula operation and trepanning, to name the most cringe-worthy. However, as someone who appreciates historical realism, I appreciated this even as I squirmed. Indeed, the author was very diligent to incorporate even small references to aspects of Early Modern life that added to the overall character of his setting – from scrofula and clipping ears as a form of punishment, to the value of manuscripts and books, to the total hodgepodge that was monarchical loyalty. The time period truly comes alive, and feels natural.
Overall, this was a book I enjoyed reading, and would read again. And if you’re into historical fiction, war, and the Wars of the Roses, this would be a great book to pick up… if you can adjust to the present tense narration.