Friday, September 17, 2010

Book Review: The Broken Sword

The Broken Sword by Rhoda Edwards
Published 1976 by Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York
(UK title: Some Touch of Pity)

The Broken Sword: A Novel of the Reign of Richard III by Rhoda Edwards is among the best fictional accounts of the late maligned king that I have read. It covers the last two years of Richard’s life, from shortly before he discovered his brother, Edward IV, had died and named him protector of his son Edward V, to his tragic defeat two years later after having suffered the deaths of his only legitimate son and of his wife of twelve years. We get a real sense of his character and the difficulties he had to deal with during his rule.

Edwards shows us the king from the eyes of several people who were important to him in some way, from his own view point, and from Robert Bolman, the clerk Richard promoted based solely on merit—a truly unique act of those times. Even though this two year period was presented from multiple view points, Edwards gave each a unique voice.

I found the chapters told by Richard’s wife, Anne Neville, his close friend and ally, Francis Lovell, and his physician, Dr. William Hobbes especially poignant. In these chapters we see Richard at the height of his powers and personal happiness and at his most vulnerable and at the depths of his emotional agony.

One point that had puzzled me was why Richard rushed into that last fateful battle where he lost his life and subsequently, his reputation. Edwards shows us Richard was among other things, under fiscal pressure to not delay the battle. The treasury was still depleted and not unlike affairs today, he needed money to govern. Had he pushed the battle back to when he could have been assured of the necessary troops, he risked not having the capital to pay for them. One point Edwards developed that I particularly liked was how Richard had been aware of the Stanleys’ potential betrayal, but that he had approached their “fence sitting” pragmatically.

There were a few expository paragraphs, more so near the beginning of the book, interrupting the narrative flow that Edwards had otherwise so beautifully crafted. I would have preferred it if those parts had been handled through author’s notes at the end.

Ordinarily, I don’t recommend fiction as a reference for historical facts, since to get at what the author interprets as an emotional or larger truth, the writer might decide to “bend” a few facts. In this instance, I take exception. Not only did Edwards not take any license with the facts, but I feel she did find the larger truth. This book stands equally with the other oft touted Ricardian classics—Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey and Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman.

The Broken Sword is no longer in print. Used copies are available.


  1. I have this one as well as her other book on Richard (Fortune's Wheel is the name of it I think) but haven't gotten around to either of them. Sounds like something to look forward to!

  2. Joan:

    I think I read the book years ago, when I was more "into RIII than I am now. I recall it was very interesting and powerful, and I felt sad at the end. I know you don't "recommend" historical fiction as a "guide" to history, but OTOH, if the fiction gets somebody interested enough to read about the real history, then I think the author has done his or her job.
    Anne G

  3. Anne, I agree that most historical fiction isn't a guide to history, nor do I think most authors intend to make it so. I don't know whether or not Edwards had intended to do so, but the history is so solid, that it serves as a guide as well as getting at character.

    Daphne, I think you'll love this book. Do read it.

  4. I bought it when it first came out in 1976 and devoured it; the prequel, "Fortune's Wheel" came out a year or two later. Thanks for reminding me that they are worth re-reading. It's interesting how much greater impact many books make upon... rereading as an older adult. Being on the planet longer gives one a lot better perspective and I'm sure I'll get far more out of them than I did during the first reading.

    Stephanie F

  5. I have these books but have yet to read them -- it's about time I dipped back into R3 as I've been reading other things lately.

  6. If both Broken Sword and Fortune's Wheel are out of print, is it likely that they might be available as e-books?

  7. Devaki, Since the book is still in copyright, I doubt that it is available as an ebook. I did an "AddALL" out-of-print book search for The Broken Sword and got this result. It looks like used copies are available. You might also want to search The Book Depository and Better World Books for these two books. The Book Depository ships free globally and Better World Books ships free in the US and has reasonable shipping fees elsewhere.

    Good luck finding a copy.