Reviewed: Dark Queen Rising by Paul Doherty

May, 1471. The Wars of the Roses are reaching their bitter and bloody climax. Edward of York has claimed the English throne, and his supporters are extracting a savage revenge on all who supported the Lancastrian cause. Surrounded by enemies wherever she turns, the position of Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and mother to Henry Tudor, the last remaining hope of the House of Lancaster, is precarious to say the least.

Determined to protect her son whatever it takes, Margaret must rely on her sharp-witted clerk Christopher Ulswicke to be her eyes and ears. When four bodies are discovered in a London tavern, their throats slit, and Margaret herself is suspected of being behind the crime, it’s up to Ulswicke to prove his mistress’s innocence and unmask the real killer.

I’ll say straight off that although I know Paul Doherty has written dozens of books, this is the first one I have read. And I call myself a Medieval Mystery lover: I know, disgraceful.

Purely from the perspective of a Mystery Buff, this novel is rather a letdown as the actual crime does not happen until over halfway through and is solved very quickly and easily.
Now, I’ve read mysteries where the main event does not happen until a long way in before, but I think what’s annoying is that this story is ‘sold’ as a mystery. The crime is made out to be the central focus of the novel. It’s not.

I would describe the book more of a political thriller, with a strong emphasis on plots and intrigue: and violence. The descriptions of executions, torture, severed heads and limbs, and dismembered human remains are frequent and graphic.

As a historical thriller this novel works actually works reasonably well, incorporating flawed and well-drawn characters, whose motives and actions are questionable.
However, I’m not sure I fully agreed with how a lot of historical figures were depicted. George Duke of Clarence for example was almost a cartoon villain, and I don’t believe Margaret Beaufort would have so heinously betrayed her own Lancastrian relatives. I understand this is probably done for the sake of the story, but I just wasn’t always convincing for me.

The historical accuracy is: questionable in places, entirely absent in others. The names of both Margaret’s second and third husbands are wrong, for example. One is given as Humphrey Stafford, when it was Henry Stafford, and the second William Stanley when it was actually Thomas Stanley.
There was also a curious reference to a character using a ‘hand-held arbalest’- another name for a crossbow. But this description suggested a sort of miniature device that could be operated with one hand and I don’t know of any evidence such things existed in the 15th century.

The main problem problem this novel has though is the claim that almost everything is based on ‘evidence’ from the time. That evidence in itself is flawed: many of the chronicles and other sources from the period of the Wars of the Roses are partisan, biased or reflect the propaganda used by both sides.
Some is actually hearsay and gossip. There is no evidence that Henry VI never consummated his marriage to Margaret of Anjou for example. Nor for the notorious report that he said her son was ‘conceived of the Holy Spirit’. Well, save from a Yorkist Chronicle written years after the Prince’s birth by someone who was not present.

I’d certainly consider reading some of this author’s other work, and this novel was probably not the best introduction to it.

Thanks to Severn House Publishing for providing a copy via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

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