Almost every Ricardian knows about the famous novels ‘The Sunne in Splendour’ by Sharon Penman and ‘We Speak No Treason’ by Rosemary Hawley Jarman. Most know Majorie Bowen’s ‘Dickon’, Carleton’s ‘Under The Hog,’ and ‘The White Boar’ by Marian Palmer. More recent readers who are discovering the world of kindle probably have seen Meredith Whitford’s ‘Treason’, J.P. Reedman’s ‘I Richard Plantagenet’, Joanne Larner’s ‘Richard Liveth Yet’ time travel series, and many more.
However, a lot more novels have been written about King Richard in the past, and I am tracking them down as I am something of a completist (Ok,ok, the word is ‘nerd.’) I have recently managed to obtain two particularly usual Ricardian novels that almost never get a mention, both of which I believe have some merit.
FIRE AND MORNING by Francis Leary was published by Ace Giants in 1957. I found this an excellent read, with beautiful language that is often missing from modern novels. Quite unusually, it starts when Richard is already King, and does not cover earlier periods in his life, although it refers to them. It is well researched with the knowledge available at the time, and uses it well. It is not the most appealing portrayal of Richard ever written, but it shows a human being who is conflicted and real. Elizabeth of York being in love with Richard is used as a device but there is no secret tryst between them–he outright rejects her. Bosworth is well written, and though there is outdated information, such as Richard being on Ambion Hill, the battle and weaponry are well described and the action realistic. In the aftermath of the battle one passage goes: ‘This was what he had dicovered: the end of the quest. The dishonoured broken body passing, like the bloody shame of a perished England. Men would become harder, more cruel; there would be less truth, less love.’
(I noted in the author’s acknowledgements that Leary mentioned ‘his friend’ Isolde Wigram and the Fellowship of the White Boar.)
KING’S RANSOM was written by Glenn Pierce (the penname of an American history professor) and published in 1986. It was never well known, no doubt floundering in the titanic shadow of Sunne in Splendour, which preceded it by several years. Ignore the cover, which is truly awful–Richard is wearing his dad’s hat and is modelled on a photo of Emilio Estevez (yes, really; we even found the photo!), there is a big muscly executioner with an axe, and, gasp, the wrong date is written on the reverse side…it says 1486!
However, once one forgets this 80’s cheesiness, it turns into rather a decent novel after a slowish start. The beginning is also different from other Ricardian novels, taking place in the 1980’s at an archaeological dig…in a car park, no less! No, not Richard they were digging up, but a monk–a monk buried with a manuscript and a secret. Therein develops a sub plot set in modern times about who gets the manuscript, which tells the real story of Richard’s life, how it should beinterpreted, and what to do with it. Most of the book, however, takes place in Richard’s own lifetime. There are a few noticeable gaffes in the chronology, perhaps made deliberately so the events would flow easily into each other (and the author has a weird habit of giving everyone moustaches!) , but despite that, it is an extremely readable novel and the author has the knack of carrying you on from page to page without flagging. The story is told mainly from the first person POV of the monk Godfrey, whose bones were found in the car park, as he follows Richard and by his writing unravels the later Tudor propaganda.