Across the Doubtful Sea, Arnemuiden, Bosworth, Clint Dohnen, Edward IV, Era of the Warring States, Henry Tudor, Kojiro Takeda, Lancaster, Mary Rose, Mori, Richard III, Sengoku Jidai, Tewkesbury, The Rose and the Crane, The Wars of the Roses, Tokugawa Shogunate, Tudor Rose, York
Welcome, as always, dear readers.
If you read us regularly, you know that, in general, we tend to write about the past—a lot of the past, including not only our own historical past and the past of Middle-earth, but also about past authors, as well. Today, we’re doing something slightly different in that we are writing a review of a novel, The Rose and the Crane (2017)
by someone who is definitely of the present, Clint Dohnen, although his book is set in the period 1483-1485.
Like our own Across the Doubtful Sea (2015)
this is a self-published book, available at Amazon.com, and we found it as an Amazon recommendation.
The title interested us immediately for its juxtaposition of two things one would normally not think of at the same time:
That cover, however, with its crossing of medieval sword and katana, suggested that those two things weren’t plant and bird, but something heraldic, as in the Tudor rose
and the badge (mon) of the Mori clan of Japan.
That rose was, in fact, a piece of political symbolism, being the combination of two separate house badges, the white rose of York
and the red rose of Lancaster,
which noble houses, along with their allies, fought an on-again off-again civil war mostly through central England from 1455 to 1487. This struggle later came to be known as “The Wars of the Roses” because of those two flowers.
The protagonist of this novel is Simon Lang, a young refugee from that conflict as, at the beginning of the novel, in 1483, his family’s side, the Lancastrians, have suffered what apparently had been a decisive defeat at Tewkesbury, 4 May, 1471 and the heavy hand of the Yorkist government had been upon them since.
(This is by Graham Turner, who has done a whole series of dramatic paintings of battles of the Wars of the Roses for Osprey, one of our favorite publishers of military history.)
Simon has become an exile, currently working on a Venetian trading ship off the coast of Japan. (We were a little puzzled by this, we must admit, as, to our knowledge, the first Renaissance ships in that part of the world would only appear–after a strenuous trip around Africa—under Vasco da Gama in 1499—but, once the novel got under weigh, we put this puzzlement aside and let the plot carry us away.) This ship is armed with cannon, which might seem a little surprising in 1483, but the first known use of guns on European ships actually dates all the way back to the battle of Arnemuiden, 23 September, 1338.
When we think of early ships’ guns, however, we always think of those of the Mary Rose,
which sank, with virtually all hands, during a naval battle with the French, on 19 July, 1545, was rediscovered in the late 20th century, raised, and now is on display in Portsmouth, England.
As you can see, about half the ship has survived and, with it, an enormous quantity of wonderfully-preserved artefacts, including a number of its guns.
It’s while on board this ship that the Rose, so to speak, meets the Crane, the samurai Kojiro Takeda
in the time in Japanese history known as Sengoku Jidai, the “Era of the Warring States” (1467-1600), when the country went through its own complex period of civil wars before the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867) brought repression and peace simultaneously.
Takeda is rescued, along with a friend, from the ship of an enemy family and the first part of the novel deals with adventures in Japan (including a battle to defend the village of Takeda’s friend, which is very clearly and convincingly described—as are all the battles in the book—and there are several of them).
The merchant ship is on a trading venture, however, and the second major episode involves the main characters in an expedition south from Japan to the Molucca Islands (now known as the Maluku), a group which is situated between New Guinea and Borneo.
There—this is an adventure novel after all—they are attacked by cannibal headhunters. These headhunters are not given a name, but, from the description, we imagine that they could be Sea Dayaks from Borneo,
known for collecting heads.
From there, it’s back to Venice—but this is not a breather because there is another plot—a meanwhile.
After the death of the Yorkist king, Edward IV, in 1483,
the crown should have passed to his two sons, but, instead, Edward’s younger brother, at first regent for the two boys, then takes the crown, the two boys are declared illegitimate—and, well, never seen again.
Much of what was thought to be known of this younger brother, who became Richard III,
originally came from sources employed by his enemy and eventual replacement, Henry Tudor, aka Henry VII,
but, over the years, the image of the hunch-backed monster of Shakespeare
has gradually been changed to that of a successful administrator and more-than-competent king and soldier, but this is an adventure novel with both a young late-medieval knight and a ronin (masterless samurai) as main characters, so Richard is put back into his old role—and even more so, being clearly a psychopath.
Simon is distantly related—half of noble England seemed to be—to the heads of the Lancastrian family and Richard is determined to remove any possible threat to his position as king, so Simon is a marked man—a situation which will continue to be the case till the very end of the book, when, in one final battle scene, Simon and his friends fight in the army of Henry Tudor at Bosworth, 22 August, 1485.
Richard III is killed in the struggle
and, in the aftermath, Henry—now Henry VII—returns Simon’s ancestral lands to him and suitably rewards the samurai and the other members of Simon’s fellowship (a familiar scene from the end of Star Wars IV, to “The Field of Cormallen” in The Return of the King).
We hope that you can tell from our summary that this is a fine example of just what we enjoy: a wild adventure set in an actual historical era which the author has taken pains to reconstruct, with the kinds of characters one would hope for: exiles with murderous talents, cheerfully making their way through hair-raising situations. We would add to this three more items:
- the descriptions of scenery and actions are clear, precise, and persuasive
- the language barrier—after all, in the space of the book, characters move from England to Venice to Japan to the Moluccas and back—is handled with some care—if we have to suspend our disbelief, we only have to do so briefly and some games are played with language throughout
- which leads us to our third point—this is—we’ll use an old-fashioned word here—a rollicking book—it’s just plain fun and, like all of the best adventure stories, could easily be read more than once
We hope that you enjoy it as much as we did.
Thanks, as ever, for reading and,
That image of Richard III has its own interesting story. After Richard was killed at Bosworth, his body was quickly buried in a religious installation—Greyfriars Priory–in the city of Leicester. Over the years from 1485 to the early 2000s, the Priory had long disappeared and the body with it (although there was another tradition that the bones had been dumped into the local river and lost). In August, 2015, however, a joint project of the University of Leicester and Leicester City Council not only located the site, but almost immediately found the skeleton of a man of the right age who seemed to have suffered a battlefield death. Subsequent DNA matching with descendants, plus the site itself, confirmed that the bones were that of the last Yorkist king and, before he was interred in Leicester Cathedral, measurements were taken and this image made. Here’s a LINK, if you’d like to learn more.