Feud by Derek Birks
The Wars of the Roses are a period of British history that I (and I suspect plenty of other people) blithely think they know about, and we’re quite blase about the whole thing. And yet when I think about what I know, all I could really tell you is that it went on for decades and that it ended at Bosworth Field in 1485 with a Welshman with a big nose and a cruel hunchback searching for a horse. Well, a little more than that, obviously, but you get my drift. And I don’t buy into the evil Richard III hunchback myth either, but then I’m a son of the white rose, so that goes without saying.
Feud is the debut novel by Derek Birks and the first in a four book series. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into it. Was it going to be a bloody battles historical novel, or a family saga? Well, simply it is both.
The book follows the … well, the feud, obviously… between the Elder family and their neighbours, the Radcliffes. To some extent, the story of the families opened a little fast for me, launching straight into the moment of critical mass in the families’ struggles from the first page without much of a chance to acclimatise to the characters. In retrospect, given the size and scope of the book, I expect Derek took the deliberate decision to cut down on early chaff.
Driven from his lands and with his family dead, captive or scattered, Ned Elders sets off on a mission to put things right in the face of insurmountable odds. And as the story follows his journey, as well as those of his sisters, his friends and his enemies, the tale interweaves with the events of political and military manoeuvering and warfare leading up to the dreadful battle of Towton in 1461.
Firstly, let me say that this novel is an indie published work and is at the very top of the quality scale. It is exceptionally well written and polished. Apart from the fairly precipitous beginning and a perhaps over-complex web of events that led me to regularly think back and work out where everyone was, everything I found about the book was good. The writing is descriptive and immersive, yet driven along by the characters at a surprisingly swift pace. Those characters are well rounded and quite believable. There is nothing superman about them. They are human, with flaws and feelings, and they struggle through bad times. And Derek is not averse to killing important characters, so don’t get too attached to the supporting cast. The battle scenes are bloody and action packed, and the (many) scenes of individual derring-do are excellent.
Moreover, there is a sense that this feud that forms the backbone of the tale is rather unnecessary. The characters are not black and white on the whole, but grey. The Radcliffes actually contain good people in the end, and the actions of the Elders at times can be a little questionable. Although there can be no doubt that Edmund Radcliffe is definitely a slimeball! Nicely done, I’d say.
The landscapes here – and the book stretches from North Yorkshire to Wales, to Shropshire and London, and back north again – are well painted, and some of the area is local to me, so I could visualise the places well.
The first novel deals with the feud and achieves a good, finite ending on that family squabble, yet we are still left with questions about the future of the family during these tumultuous times. And so this book took me to 1461 and left me wanting to read the other three, which I presume will gradually bring me to Bosworth field and the end of the Wars.
In short, an excellent debut with some memorable characters and a good swift pace. Give it a read and you’ll not be disappointed.