Accession by Livi Michael is the third and final instalment of her Wars of the Roses trilogy which opens in 1444 with the novel Succession. The trilogy centres itself around Margaret Beaufort and Margaret of Anjou and their competing ambitions for their sons and the English throne. Novel three, as one would expect from this author, is meticulously researched: Michael knows her period in depth.
As readers of the early works in the trilogy will be aware, Michael uses extensive sections from a range of contemporary and later chronicles and commentaries to tell parts of the story, opening and ending chapters and sometimes running the varied historical voices through the narrative as though their words were being spoken. The trilogy is, in many ways, a chronicle itself, with this third instalment taking the reader in chronological order through all the political events impinging on the English crown during the 1471-1485 timespan.
A different approach to structural style is a refreshing thing, especially when the subject matter is so well-known, and it is a style Michael has sustained across the three parts of the work. However, I have to be honest and say that for me, in this third part in particular, the use of these extracts over-burdens the narrative with a weight of reported rather than experienced events and perspectives that divert and detract from what could be gripping story-telling.
The novel is at its strongest when dealing with Margaret Beaufort and, to a lesser extent (simply because her personal story ends in the earlier part of the book) Margaret of Anjou. Michael knows these women: they come quickly alive and their concerns become the readers’ concerns. The Margaret Beaufort portrayed here is a flesh and blood woman spinning to keep her place and, more importantly, her son’s place, safe and relevant in a world where fortunes change on a whim. However, there are a great many other, more sketchily-drawn, characters clamouring for the reader’s attention and a liberal use of pronouns rather than names which, although checks could be made against extracts and (in some cases) chapter headings, became increasingly distancing. I was out of the story more than I was in.
Accession has the feel of a book which seems reluctant to find its place: it is fiction written with a heavily non-fiction hand. I would not, however, imagine that Michael intends it to be read as a stand-alone and fans of the style of the previous two books will find plenty to enjoy.
Catherine Hokin is a Glasgow-based author with a degree in History from Manchester University. Her debut novel, Blood and Roses, was published in 2016. She regularly blogs as Heroine Chic, casting a historical, and often hysterical, eye over women in history and popular culture.