My Lord John, Georgette Heyer
Another of Georgette Heyer's medieval novels, My Lord John focuses on the life of John, Duke of Bedford, one of Henry V's younger brothers. This is historical fiction and is a very in depth look at the politics of Henry IV's time. Despite a rather slow start (and spontaneous sections that are rather boring), things do pick up somewhat and I found myself rather interested in the story that Ms. Heyer tells. It was originally supposed to be the entire life story of the Duke of Bedford but she was unable to finish. The story begins in 1393 when John is about 4 and ends in 1413 with the death of his father, Henry IV. Between those years the country is thrown into turmoil with the problems connected to Richard II's reign and Henry Bolingbroke's eventual claim of the English crown. Once Henry is king, he sends John to the north of England as Lord Warden of the North and this is where John's real growing up and maturing happens. Throughout the novel we see John's interactions not only with his father but with his brothers, most especially Henry of Monmouth, the future Henry V.
I have to confess that it was quite slow to get into and extremely confusing with the many different (and usually unfamiliar) names some of the characters go by (there are about four ways that people address John of Gaunt). Eventually I was able to get them somewhat straight in my head and it wasn't nearly as confusing. The language and dialogue can be a bit tough to follow in places but the author was trying to stay true to the time and I don't feel any of it was in any way "over the top." If you are looking for a love story of some sort this is not the novel for you. If you are looking for a novel with a lot of action and war and bloodshed, this is not the novel for you either. There really is not that much action at all, though you do get detailed descriptions of events happening elsewhere (but considering the fact that the story is basically told from the perspective of a small child and then a young man on the fringes of events, that's probably to be expected) and it can get a bit boring at times. However, the descriptions of places, customs, laws, daily life, and politics are extremely detailed and obviously well researched. Her attention to detail is really phenomenal. Ms. Heyer is able to paint a fantastic and accurate picture of life in late 14th and early 15th century England for her readers. Watching John grow up and mature, learning to maneuver his way through politics, was fascinating and it was easy to see why his older brother came to rely on him so heavily. All the characters get some time "in the spotlight" so to speak but the story is essentially John's. There are many characters in this novel but family trees and a list of characters and their various nom de plumes are included to help the reader attempt to sort through them all. There is also a handy glossary at the back to help with those unfamiliar medieval terms.
It was interesting to me to see those involved in the beginnings of the Wars of the Roses. I really would've loved to see how and where Heyer would have ended the story; it ends mid-sentence. It is sad that she died before having the chance to finish this proposed trilogy of her favorite era in British history. I also learned a great deal about the time period and I always enjoy that. All that being said, overall the novel is pretty dull and dry with hardly any action, no type of love story, and heaps of historical information. Even though I was interested in the story and enjoyed the meticulously researched details of life and people, I wouldn't recommend this to the causal reader or to someone unfamiliar with the time period. There is simply too much information thrown out there and it would be very easy to get frustrated and bogged down. If you don't mind a rather dry read if there is a lot of good historical information, this book is certainly for you!