Book Review: “The Claimant”

by Simon Anderson

Published by:  Copyright 2011 Simon Anderson

ISBN 1461042399

I picked up this novel after a visit to the site of the battlefield of Towton, just south of York.  It was Palm Sunday and a sweet, April morning, very different from the Palm Sunday of the battle on 29 March 1461.  That had dawned bitter and grey with an aching, cold wind that brought the threat of snow.  The battle was the bloody and decisive finale to the Wars of the Roses, ending with the rout of the Lancastrian armies and victory for the House of York.  It is said to have been the biggest, bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil and some 28,000 lay dead: slaughtered with sword, bill hook and battle-axe, or with the cruel cold, many trampled underfoot in the rout or drowned in the swollen beck.

Fired up with such tales of ancient deeds and misdeeds, I opened the book and started to read.  The novel opens with the Battle of Ludford Bridge after which the Yorkist hero, Richard Wardlow, is separated from his father and in retreat with a small band of loyal men.  Hidden from view, he watches, impotent, the ignominious slaughter of his father by one Edmund of Calais.  He vows vengeance and the story then leads us through the mediaeval landscape of the Clwyd hills and Welsh Marches as the rival claimants for the Wardlow Estate try to take back what they each believe to be their own.

This is potentially a cracking good yarn but sadly failed to grip and hold my attention as well as it might.  Anderson is a good writer who knows his subject and period, almost to a fault.  Certainly, for those with a taste for the minutiae of mediaeval warfare, there is plenty to please.  For me, I found this of less interest and, indeed on occasions, a little contrived and distracting.  However, Anderson did succeed in conjuring up some of the historical atmosphere and made a reasonable fist of developing characters with relevance to a modern readership.  He also managed to lead the reader passably well through the shifting political maze of the time.

Regrettably, what was also distracting and not a little irritating was the rather sloppy visual and typographical presentation of the book.  This author is self-published and unfortunately this is evident in many little ways.  There are a number of typographical errors which, admittedly, one has come to expect from even the best publishing houses these days.  However, accidental switching of the name of at least one main character is disconcerting and, with the ‘find and replace’ facility at our modern fingertips, unforgiveable.  More glaring still is the lack of consistency in the layout, particularly in the separation of the chapters.  There might be almost a whole page between the end of one and the start of the next while the start of another may be crushed up almost tight as can be to the closing lines of the last.  Chapter length is also rather variable.  This in itself is not hugely problematic, but one particular chapter stands out as being ridiculously short at barely half a page for no good literary reason that I could fathom.

These criticisms might appear to be over-picky, but a good editor would have sorted these out and tightened up plot and character development.  It is a shame that this author wasn’t able to enjoy this advantage as I feel sure, with the right assistance, this could have been honed to a much better book about a significant and neglected period of English history.

–  Louella Chesterman

Louella Chesterman has appeared on ‘Book It!’ radio broadcasts on several occasions, both as a book reviewer, and as a writer.

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