It's 1399. Richard II is a bad-yet-rather-gorgeous king, who is swiftly deposed and replaced by Henry IV, who is a grumpy bad usurping king, which we all know is the very worst sort.
Henry not-yet-V is a solemn princeling who idolises the adorable, bluff-and-Northern-yet-glam Henry (Hotspur) Percy. Hotspur is just the nicest possible perfect gentil knight, but oh no! the appalling grumpiness and terrible-kingliness of Bad Henry has offended him unbearably! And now the Welsh are revolting for some reason we don't really care about because we are too busy focussing on the emotional turmoil of big-eyed Young Henry and Adorable Hotspur, who are Torn Apart By War And Terrible Parenting. It ends badly, as I think the title probably suggests.
To be honest, this is not a bad book. But I found it incredibly frustrating, because although I am mildly interested in Henry V, and really quite interested in Hotspur, the people I find most fascinating in this period are Owain Glyn Dwr, his daughter Caitrin, and Sir Edmund Mortimer, the captured English leader who marries Caitrin, goes over to the Welsh side and tries to raise the standard for Edmund Earl of March, who was the True King. But the author really isn't interested in them at all and they are only heard of, not seen. I spent a lot of this book desperately wanting to rip the camera out of the author's hands and point it elsewhere.
This probably proves that if your audience is sufficiently opinionated, the poor author doesn't have a hope.
Our Game - John le Carré
This is another of le Carré's books about belief, which I think in the end is what his Smiley books were about too...What's left to believe in, kill for, lie for, in a changing world where the old certainties and the old values that once seemed important prove transient - and what happens when you realise that you've crossed the line and the thing you thought you were defending has got lost along the way?
A retired spy, Larry, vanishes, and it seems that he has got himself involved with a freedom fighting faction in Ingushetia (which sounds like a made-up middle-European kingdom from a pre-war adventure novel, but it turns out is actually a real Russian republic near Chechnya, I had no idea.)
Larry's old handler is now retired, but is asked by MI6 to discreetly investigate - and in the process becomes involved, loses everything he had, but didn't really care about, and perhaps has the chance to become a hero instead. Moves from spy novel to something with a feel of legend to it in the way only Le Carré can. Not quite up there with the Smiley novels, but still well worth a read.
Wine of Angels - Phil Rickman
This was billed as 'the first Merrily Watkins Mystery' - Merrily being the new vicar, a single mum with teenage daughter who has been appointed vicar to a small Herefordshire village, once famous for its cider, now trying to make its way in a world where cider is packaged as a trendy upmarket product. I was expecting a fairly cosy whodunnit, and was a bit taken aback by the amount of mysticism in it. I suppose there is no reason why a whodunnit should not contain fairies, but it was... unexpected. Not sure if I shall go on to book 2 or not.
The Lost Prince - Frances Hodgson Burnett
Marco is a tall and clearly utterly amazing, incredibly good-looking boy, son of a mysterious middle-European father fallen on hard times, a Samavian patriot now living in pre-WWI London (Samavia doesn't exist, but after the surprise of Ingushetia, which in many ways is a kind of modern Samavia, I felt I had to check).
The Rat is the disabled and disaffected son of an ex-teacher who beats his son and eventually drinks himself to death, leaving The Rat homeless. For some reason I'm not entirely clear on, but possibly just because it is in the news, The Rat becomes a fan of Samavia, and starts making up Samavia stories for his friends (the Squad). Then they meet Marco. Marco's father is the best thing ever! Marco and The Rat are given the job of travelling across Europe to carry a mysterious secret message to a number of people, some grand and some more ordinary. Neither of them knows what the message means, but the last message must be delivered to Samavia. While travelling, The Rat has constant impulses to wait on Marco like a servant, and comes to the realisation that like his amazing father, Marco is ALSO the best thing ever! In return, Marco teaches The Rat an odd form of Buddhism that his father picked up in India. The identity of the titular Lost Prince is fairly obvious by this time, but still comes as a great surprise to Marco, and the Squad are dropped like a five-week-old cod, never to be heard of again.
I enjoyed this book, although in some ways it was slow, and in others didn't really make sense. In particular, I enjoyed the description of travelling across a prosperous, open pre-WWI Europe, in a way that wouldn't be possible again for so many years (the book was published 1915). It was interesting that the main protagonist, Marco, is Samavian rather than English, and that the Rat, although English, is a street child. It made me realise that most books I've read from before about 1950 are very much from a prosperous English or American perspective, which I don't think I'd really registered before.
Also interesting is the way that both Marco and The Rat are so hugely commended for their willingness to obey orders unquestioningly. The Rat does at least think critically about the information he can glean, although he can't glean very much - but Marco has basically been trained to unquestioning obedience from early childhood, and this is painted as a thoroughly admirable trait. I imagine that attitude was given something of a bashing by the experience of the trenches, and seen off entirely by the Holocaust....
Currently reading: Fire & Sword by Louise Turner, aka endlessrarities :-)