This is the first of a four-book series about the Wars of the Roses. Toby Clements is a new author for me, I admit to picking up the paperback in a bookshop when browsing and am happy to find an unknown historical author to explore. Winter Pilgrims is the first of the four novels, telling the well-documented story of the Lancaster versus York wars through the eyes of two fictional people on the edge of the action.
In February 1460, at a priory in Lincoln, two people flee from marauding soldiers. Despite living yards apart in the same priory Brother Thomas and Sister Katherine have never met until this morning, their previously segregated lives are to be entwined as they escape danger only to encounter new threats. And some old ones.
At first I worried that the plot was moving slowly and felt occasionally drowned by detail, but I stuck with it and was rewarded. By the end – and it’s a long book, the paperback is 560 pages – I wanted to starting reading the second novel straight away. Clements excels at historical detail, particularly soldiers and fight scenes, living conditions and basic human detail. Both characters are conflicted by their religious backgrounds, the things they must do to survive frequently challenge their faith. Life in the real world is brutal, dirty, dangerous and poor. Neither have the personalities of victims. Thomas trains as an archer, Katherine – adopting the male persona as Kit – proves to be an adept surgeon.
Making snap decisions takes them to unknown places with sometimes reliable, sometimes untrustworthy people. Along the way they become involved in some of the key battles of the year as their story is set within the broader framework of civil war. Over the years I have read a lot about the Wars of the Roses due to an early fascination via Shakespeare, but still find it disorientating and so was disappointed with the map and superficial character list. But the story of Thomas and Katherine kept me turning the pages late at night, just one more chapter.
A good book to lose yourself in.
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WINTER PILGRIMS by Toby Clements #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5iY via @SandraDanby