Amazing Richard III Society Review of The Traitor’s Son


Our thanks go out to the Richard III Society for reviewing Wendy Johnson’s book “The Traitor’s Son” which is out now. Here’s the review (curtesy of The Richard III Society Facebook Page)

A very special book review this week, as the Society’s former Communications Manager Sharon Lock reviews the newly published novel by Wendy Johnson of the Looking For Richard Project Team.

The Traitor’s Son by Wendy Johnson

‘The Traitor’s Son’ is the debut novel by Wendy Johnson, who is one of the founder members of Philippa Langley’s ‘Looking For Richard’ project so it goes without saying that Wendy knows her subject extremely well. Which begs the question, having found the real Richard, and with a myriad of novels already written about the much-maligned man, what Richard will be found within the pages of this book?

The answer. An extremely human one.

The road he travels within this book will be well familiar to Ricardians, spanning a period of ten years between February 1461 and April 1471.

In 1461, we find young Richard, couched within the daily routine of his family before being ripped away from those familiar comforts to an uncertain spell in a foreign land, with brother George his only companion. All the while aware of the tumultuous times that ravage the homeland they have forcibly left behind. The life they return to is one turned upside down. Their brother is now King and as such, there are different expectations of Richard and George. Not just a return to familial love and the searing realities of loss, but also of duty. And loyalty.

To become the soldier his brother expects him to be, Richard must learn more than can be taught in a schoolroom, and so he is sent to the northern fortress of Middleham Castle. There, he will hone his knightly skills under the stern tutelage of his cousin, the mighty Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. On this journey, George cannot accompany him, so once again Richard is torn away from his family, those of blood, and those recently acquired by the King’s unexpected marriage.

Haunted by the death of his father and separated from those closest to him, new bonds are necessarily forged. With fellow henchmen, through the trials of the tiltyard. Then with the Earl himself, whose sharp eye Richard is keen to impress and whose respect he is determined to win. So, it is to the Earl he turns when troubled by things he cannot explain. Things which make him fear for his future. Under the Earl’s guiding hand and no-nonsense advice, Richard’s time at Middleham is both formative and precious. Yet, back at court, there is a fissure of discontent. Cracks have begun to appear, reaching far and wide, including his northern home.

What follows are a course of events which slowly begin to shape Richard the man. Doubt, fear, betrayal, determination and, of course, loyalty. But to whom, and at what price? Called back to London, he finds it a foreign land. Both of his brothers much changed, each affected in different ways by a glittering cohort of newly emboldened courtiers: the Woodville family.

Wendy shows us Richard as a boy, not yet a man, at the centre of a tug-of-war. Where people he loves, and trusts, align themselves to either side of the rope. ormer certainties unravel and he knows, all too well, he cannot remain uncommitted. But which side has the stronger pull when love, duty and loyalty are interwoven within the very rope itself?
Richard will make a choice. He must. He is learning in the hardest way, that such choices are not merely between what is right and wrong. What is black and white. Edges are blurred, hard to determine. It is not a fight that can be won. Not in his eyes. There will be only loss. Of one kind or another.
That is the core struggle Richard faces within the pages of this book, and the gradual growth from the scholar in the schoolroom, to the soldier on the battlefield is an absorbing read.
This is not a romantic novel, nor a story of bravery and heroism. It is a book about growth and adversity. About choice and consequence. About love and betrayal. The book touches only briefly on his first ‘romance’ if you will, and the child which results from it, but I won’t spoil it by giving anything away.

Wendy writes with real in-depth knowledge of her subject, as you would expect, and a wealth of detail in the period. There is also an empathy with all the characters no matter what we, the reader, may think of them.

What I enjoyed most about the book was the time spent on Richard’s relationship with George and the attention paid to the growing challenges of that sibling bond. It is not an aspect that is often covered in other books covering this same period, at least not ones I have yet read. How the simple givens of childhood evolve into the complicated relationships of adulthood. The journey that turns a boy into a man. And how painful, though necessary, that journey was for Richard.

I believe this is the first of three books covering Richard’s life, and written under Wendy’s assiduous care, she will reveal more of how Richard’s values and beliefs are both developed and challenged over the years to come, making him a real man of his times as opposed to a crudely painted caricature.

It is made very clear that Richard’s choices are not between black or white. Much as Richard himself, as a human being, was neither all bad, nor all good. Th truth, as ever, lies in-between. My hope, for the Richard crafted by Wendy’s skilful words, and for the man himself, is that a wider audience begins to recognise that for a fact.
‘The Traitor’s Son’ is published today and is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon, and can be ordered from Waterstones.

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