Trinity is the second part of Conn Iggulden’s Fifteenth Century historical novels depicting the Wars of the Roses between the houses of Lancaster and York. It started with Stormbird, which followed an ill and ineffectual King Henry VI through a period of civil unrest culminating in Jack Cade’s rebellion and march on London.
Trinity sees the weak king faring no better, and not expected to live for much of the book. Not only that but he’s fallen into the hands of his enemies, and is held hostage by York and Salisbury, who want to see an end to his reign.
Sidelining the king enables Iggulden to foreground a character he clearly enjoys writing – Henry’s wife the French Margaret of Anjou, and she is the central character and the driving force of the House of Lancaster. Having a strong, well-written female protagonist is unusual for a work of historical fiction, but she is entirely credible. Iggulden uses the queen’s nationality as a constant source of tension, as Margaret is tested throughout. In a neat inversion, there is a wonderful sequence that sees Margaret travelling north to Scotland, and she is afraid of and unable to understand the native Scots, communicating with the lairds instead.
Margaret’s protector is Henry’s spymaster, Derry Brewer, one of Iggulden’s original creations, who is something like a medieval James Bond. At the beginning of the novel, Brewer is hiding undercover in a monastery, with his hair cut into a monk’s tonsure, before he’s called back to action. Brewer doesn’t have as much to do in Trinity compared to Stormbird, since Margaret drives the plot forwards, but he effectively acts as her right-hand man.
There is a large cast of characters in Trinity, just as there was in Stormbird, with the two competing sides are each replete with Dukes and royalty. Close reading pays off for the subtlety of the shifting loyalties in the unceasing power play between virtually everyone in the English court. Iggulden benefits the clarity by telling the story through only a few voices, such as Margaret and Brewer. The other side is led by York and Salisbury, and Iggulden gets into their heads too. York is a richly fascinating character. Iggulden’s nuanced world allows for no simplistic presentation of good versus evil, he’s too good a writer for that. Instead, York receives a sympathetic portrayal. After all, he has plenty of opportunities to do away with the loathed King Henry VI.
Even if you do become lost with who’s who, maps of the areas at the time, and contemporary family trees of the Houses of Lancaster, York, Neville, Percy and Tudor are provided at the start of the book, and are worth remembering as a reference in case of confusion.
The large text and the constantly moving plot mean that even if you don’t pick up exactly who every single character is, it doesn’t really matter. A strength of Iggulden’s writing is his ability to bring to life what is complex and nuanced history. The book is structured around two major battles between the opposing sides, firstly the Battle of St Albans, and later a climactic showdown between Margaret and Brewer on one side, and York and Salisbury on the other at the Battle of Wakefield.
Iggulden’s descriptive power is impressive. He sets scenes with great economy, but chooses the right words to bring to life medieval England. The immobility of a suit of armour, and the difficulty of providing for biological functions is the kind of thing they don’t teach you at school, but with details like those Iggulden never shows off to his reader about the depth of his research, it’s always in service of the story.
The book won us over because if its strong storytelling and gripping prose. It’s the result of a writer inspired by the research and by his creations. It will especially appeal to anyone with an interest in historical fiction and the troubled era of the Wars of the Roses. If you’ve already been gripped by Stormbird, then Trinity is a must-read, and will not disappoint. We found the second book of the series even more confident and fluid than the first.
Iggulden satisfies his reader with a solid conclusion to Trinity, leaving it as a self-contained novel. Yet he also deftly sets up the next book in the series by hinting at the surviving sons of the vanquished lords, who are now unleashed and will soon be out for revenge…