Kings of Albion – Julian Rathbone

I’ve misread my reading diary – irony? – and I skipped a couple of books. It doesn’t help that my reading diary is also my doodle diary, and features scribbled sketches of whatever is passing through my mind when I pick up my pencil at the end of the day, with notes on books consigned to mere marginalia.

This is the sequel to The Last English King which I bought at the same charity booksale. In for a pound, in for two quid, I say. It’s better odds than penny-pound.

The Kings of the title are the protagonists of the Wars of the Roses, a period of English history of which I was completely ignorant. I’m not much enlightened now, to be honest, though. The story this time is told from the point of view of a few eastern visitors to Albion’s fair shores during the fifteenth century. They’re not from Norfolk, no. There’s a merchant type who was trading coffee in the east of India, but not making any money, a monk who turns out to be a randy female buddhist/Kali-worshipper/thuggee, and the younger brother of a prince of an Indian kingdom whose older brother they all go to rescue from Manchester. The book takes forever to set this group up, for reasons I don’t really understand, except it was probably quite good fun to write.

They reach England in the form of Calais (this is back when the King of England also had substantial holdings in northern and western France) and are promptly shocked by the squalor, cold, brutality, and general lack of quality of life in western europe when compared to the life of an eastern prince. They attend some banquet held by Lord Somerset (I think) and it’s wall-to-wall drinking, horseplay and pissing in the straw on the floor of the hall. Or Friday night, as we call it round here.

Anyway, it seems that some of Merrie Olde England has infiltrated the ruffian pyschopath aristos that William brought over in the conquest, so hurrah for that. And then… and then something happens. They go to London, and they get split up, and their tales are told separately. And a few people want to be King, I’m pretty sure of that. And London wants one of them, and someone else wants a different one. It’s not really clear. It may be because it’s a while since I read it, but I suspect it’s all a bit too complicated to be summed up in the knockabout way Rathbone wants to.

The fight scenes are good – with fully plate armoured warriors going at each other in the rainy English countryside, splattering gore and mud around in equal measures. There’s a nice bit where a couple of the observers are doing a football commentary on one of the battles, it’s really very droll.

But there are two main problems I have with it. One of them is the lack of clarity of what’s going on, who’s on what side, etc. He did this really well in English King so I was a bit disappointed here. Maybe it’s because I didn’t know the story beforehand. And the second problem is the characters telling the story. They’re supposed to be different, but they sound exactly the same. Admittedly, the monk/randy thuggee(-ess) does shag most of the principal men in the book, and clearly takes great pleasure in it, but that’s about it.

And, incidentally, there’s another longish discourse on Buddhism (I think this is the monk educating the merchant) which repeats a lot of the same stuff as is in Mishima’s Temple of Dawn. Although, I did read this one first, and it’s a bit more light-hearted. I wonder if Rathbone was reading the same textbooks as Mishima (probably not, although he may have been reading Mishima himself…)

In conclusion – some good fight scenes, some pretty good sex scenes, but overall, disappointingly written, and I didn’t learn much.

See also:

The Last English King – obviously

London by Edward Rutherford. I’m pretty sure there’s a small bit in it about the Wars of the Roses, and it’s probably easier to follow. Although it won’t deal with much outside of the city walls.