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"Live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow the King - else, wherefore born?" Tennyson's words from Idylls of the King introduce and perfectly describe Richard of Gloucester's tormented life throughout the complex War of the Roses in English history. History lovers and scholars still debate whether Richard was villain or hero, but Sandra Worth clearly portrays the early years of this future king as a dedicated, passionate youth and man whose sole desire was to loyally serve his King. Growing up without parents, Richard finds his role model in John Neville, the famous Lord Montagu. The Neville family is caught up in what seem to be unending intrigue and conflicting loyalties between the Houses of Lancaster and York.
So Richard matures while he attains the status of confidante and closest supporter of his brother, Edward IV. Shedding needless insecurities and weakness, he chooses to serve with a pure devotion and skill that must wind its way through the bitter hatred of Edward's wife and his own conniving brother George. Eventually this means even turning against Warwick, the Kingmaker, the very man who once saved Richard's life by protecting him from would-be assassins. While the multi-character presentation is complex and ever-changing, Worth superbly portrays Richard's royal behavior through a world laced with nightmarish betrayal and brutality.
Most noteworthy, however, is how Richard handles every challenge with growing strength and grace, at times emulating his friends, family, and foes' strengths and at other times escaping to an inner world in which he analyzes events and people so that he can make and act on decisions emerging from a relentless integrity and dedication to Arthurian standards.
Fifteenth century life comes alive in this author's deft descriptions of agonizing childbirth, life-threatening sea storms, torturous marriage arrangements, urban filth, bawdy sexual dalliance, and ruthlessly bloody battles that are more the norm rather than the exception. What supercedes these gross scenes are the deepening relationships forged upon belief in sacred and secular nobility and dignity.
Richard finds solace in the love he finds in Anne Neville, Warwick's charge, but even here he must eventually take charge of making his destiny with her rather than waiting for permission to fulfill their love.
Sandra Worth has crafted a historical fiction novel that is a true "classic". This reader avidly awaits the second novel in the Rose of York series, Crown of Destiny, to see what becomes of this hero, Richard, "...the flower of men, To serve as model for the mighty world."