- Book Title: The Game of Kings (Das Spiel der Könige)
- Author: Gable, Rebecca
Rebecca Gable’s Game of Kings (Das Spiel der Könige) details the story of the rose wars of medieval England during the latter part of the 15th century. To help the reader keep track of the interwoven families and often similar names, the first pages contain family trees of the feuding parties, the York and Lancester clans. More than 1,200 pages, the book follows the path of the Waringham twins, Julian and Blanche. After their father dies in battle, 22-year old Julian who supports the Tudors takes over run-down Waringham castle while his sister soon marries sinister Thomas Devereux, a Marcher Lord.
As Julian slowly rebuilds the family’s wealth by raising horses, he’s drawn into the zigzagging power struggles for the throne of England. York and Tudor, both descendants of King Edward III., claim the throne and neither side can rule in peace. Meanwhile Blanche has it out with her husband and after slicing his hand off during an argument runs away, only to fall in love with tight-lipped Jasper Tudor, the brother of the reigning king Henry.
As the country sinks into bloody war, York’s side, the scheming Richard, Duke of York, manages to push the mentally and physically weak Henry into exile. Though Henry’s wife, the iron queen Marguerite d’Anjou, summons her Lancaster supporters, it is not enough. Richard finagles himself on the throne while the York’s rightful descendants entitled to the crown, Edward and Richard — mere children— are murdered after having been lured in the tower and disappear.
Meanwhile, King Henry’s half brother and throne’s rightful descendent on the Lancaster side, Edmund Tudor (Earl of Richmond), is spending his youth as an exile in France. As the unrest about the disappearance of the boys swivels out of control, Richmond, wise beyond his years and with amazing leadership skills, returns to England to face his arch enemy, the Duke of York. After they have it out on the battle field, Richard dies and Richmond can finally assume the role of the rightful king. Waringham castle, for years in the hands of the enemy, is returned to Julian.
Gable understands to weave animated exchanges and though it is sometimes difficult to follow the similar names of the many characters, we do get drawn into their arguments/squabbles.
Invented versus Real Characters
Gable mixes imaginary characters with authentic persons of medieval England with ease. At the beginning of the book, she lists all characters for easier reference and identifies those who really lived.
Authenticity of Setting
Though we get a flavor of medieval lifestyles, i.e. the straw on the floor, this area falls short. The intricacies of castle living, clothing, food, even the various battlefields are too vague to get the reader emotionally involved. We also get little to no sense about peasant life. Even when Blanche and her lover, Jasper, are hiding in the countryside they seem only to cheerful to subsist on meager rations.
To get her story across — and this is no small task — Gable lets her characters speak freely and smoothly. Unfortunately, their contemporary sounding exchanges don’t give us a feel for the period, the late Middle Ages. Finding the right mix of authenticity and smooth content without weighing down the flow is certainly challenging.
The Game of Kings is an entertaining tale about the rose wars, but because it lacks emotional depth, leaves the reader a bit deprived. It is a story that can sit at your bedside for days without beckoning to be finished. We never get worried about our main characters (maybe with the exception of Blanche after she severs her husband’s hand). Considering the grim theme, the story unfolds slowly and lightly — as we say in German “plätschers dahin” — entertaining yes, gripping no.
The opinions stated above are my own.