The Rose of York: Love and War by Sandra Worth

Set amidst the bloodiest conflicts of the War of Roses and recounting the story of Richard of Gloucester, later Richard III of England, Sandra Worth’s novel, the first of a series, treads a well worn but still very much loved path for many historical fiction writers and readers.

Worth’s view of the child and teenage Richard is sympathetic and engaging; robbed of his childhood by his kin’s savage tug of war for England’s crown, torn by conflicting loyalties, this novel follows Richard’s journey from an uncertain, often frightened boy, struggling to overcome his own deep insecurities, to a young man with the mantle of leader firmly cast upon his slender but also very capable shoulders. Desiring only to be faithful to all he loves but bound first to his brother, the King, by loyalty and love, he is unable to prevent the relentless course that sweeps him, and others of his close family, to where battle and death seems the only answer.

Interwoven in ‘Love and War’ is a sweet and touching love-story. Richard gives his heart early in his life to his cousin Anne Neville, his ‘Flower-eyes,’ the daughter of the ‘Kingmaker,’ and remains steadfast to her throughout this novel. His desire to make her his bride is like the bright beacon of his early years. She in turn loves Richard – but Anne and Richard have much to overcome, especially the betrayal of Richard’s brother by Anne’s ambition-driven father, before they can finally wed.

From minor to major, even from animal to human, Sandra Worth’s multi-cast of characters are skilfully drawn in an extremely well executed story. Whether it is a ship shuddering in a sudden sea squall, the flame of a torch on a night’s journey, or flashes of candle-lit jewels at the court of Edward IV, not forgetting the vivid, carefully crafted battle scenes permeating with the horror of hand to hand combat, Worth paints her medieval world in all its colour, as well as all its unyielding dark harshness.

“We’re naught but shadows and phantoms in a world gone mad,” says Worth’s noble-hearted John Neville; showing one of the great strengths of historical fiction, he seemingly speaks about our times as much as his own. In this beautifully written novel, etched by a masterful storyteller, Worth’s prose often achingly strums our emotions as if notes upon Richard’s lute.