Monday 23 May 2016

REVIEW: Audiobook of Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims by Toby Clements

Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims (Kingmaker, #1)Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims by Toby Clements
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to confess to knowing next to nothing about the Wars of the Roses, and have never been overly interested in the period. I am always amazed that people can get so het up about whether Richard III was a good king, or a ruthless despot. So, despite having heard great things about this book, I had put off reading it for longer than I should have. In the end I picked up the audio book on Audible, and I cannot believe I waited this long to "read" it.


The blurb on the book is as follows:

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.


Following my admission that I was not interested in the period in which the story is set, the audio book got off to a shaky start with a rather clunky introduction that set the scene of who was fighting who, but it seemed very forced and there were too many names mentioned in a couple of paragraphs making it impossible to really follow, unless, of course, you already knew the history. But then why would you need the intro? I would much have preferred a historical note at the end of the book, but alas, there isn't one.

After the short introduction, the story started and to my dismay, it was in the present tense. But it happened hundreds of years ago, I said to myself! How can this be in present tense? I was all prepared to give up on the book then, almost before it had started, but of course I didn't. And you know what? As if some magic spell had been cast on me, the tense the prose is written in ceased to be an issue for me as, within minutes, the book leapt to glorious life. The immediacy of the writing, the rawness of the characters, the details of the historical context, the gory battles, the touching relationships, the jeopardy, the horrors of war... After those initial moments, the book was almost perfect.

I couldn't stop thinking about the story when I wasn't listening to the book. I felt that I knew the protagonists and I shared in their anguish as each terrible incident befell them. When I got to the end, I was desperate to know more and immediately bought the second in the series, Kingmaker: Broken Faith.

My verdict?

An astounding novel. A gripping, blood-soaked trek along the muddy tracks of fifteenth century Britain.


Jack Hawkins adds a near perfect narration to a near perfect book. I don't often think that a book benefits from being narrated, but in this case, I think it does. Hawkins hits just the right note of earthiness and solidity in his delivery. He manages to give each character a distinct voice and accent without overdoing it. The only slightly weak accent was for the Welsh characters, but they seemed to improve as the book progressed.

Overall rating: 5 stars

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