I was offered this by Penguin as an advance reading copy, so it is another one of those books that I came to with no prior knowledge. I gathered that it was historical fiction, based around the Wars of the Roses and from the caption on the front (“A bloody battle for the throne. And a young girl who will change English history”) it seems to be being marketed as if it is in a similar vein to something like The Other Boleyn Girl. The trouble was, I didn’t really like that book because I felt it was essentially Tudor chick-lit, all about relationships and trivialising some important moments in British history. Still, I wanted to read this and tried to keep an open mind.
Succession largely focusses on two Margarets. Margaret of Anjou, the wife of Henry VI, and the younger Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor (Henry VII). However it is not just their story as there are ‘point of view’ chapters of many other significant men and women during this turbulent time. It charts the decline of Henry VI’s monarchy and the development of the Wars of the Roses ending soon after the crowning of Edward IV. The novel is interwoven with extracts from historical accounts by contemporary (and later) chroniclers which is an interesting way of doing it.
I think reading Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel has spoilt all historical fiction of this period for me. Those books are so beautifully written, so evocative and intricately plotted, that everything else pales alongside it. Nevertheless, this is a good read. The main characters are well-rounded and three-dimensional, and you are not forced to take sides, all evoke your sympathy equally. The two Margarets are both strong and flawed, fighting tooth and nail every way they can to secure their son’s futures. They seem both modern in their power but clearly constrained by their social position and expectations of the time. For me, I could have done without the constant chopping and changing of short chapters and rapidly switching points of view, especially when on occasion it became first person but I did like the snippets of chronicles, as mentioned above.