The second book in Robyn Young’s New World Rising Trilogy is as entertaining as the first book. There is political intrigue, sword fights and almost heist like plans to save the day. If you enjoyed the first book you will not be disappointed in this one.
Court of Wolves picks up where Sons of the Blood ended. Jack/James Winther has failed epically in the tasks he set himself in the first book: He failed to protect the princes in the tower, he lost the map his father asked him to protect, he has not avenged his mother’s murder and there seems to be no way back to his beloved Grace. Burned and desperate he goes to Paris to get some answers. But the priest promised Jack answers in the last book has disappeared, seemingly kidnapped. Jack and his companions have no money, and his friends are not at all interested pursuing the mystery of the map any further. Can they not just invest their last coins on armor and set themselves up as mercenaries? No, Jack is determined to understand who his father was, why his mother was murdered and who himself is. So of they go to Florence to the ‘court’ of Lorenzo de Medici, the only man Jack thinks might have some information for him.
One of the best bits of the book are scenes with Lorenzo. He is not particularly handsome, but extremely clever, brought up to a ruler and although he is not a tyrant, he is not a saint either (far from it!). In Florence, wealthy, powerful Lorenzo is not particularly interested in sharing his most important secrets with a random English bastard on his doorstep. But he does see how Jack could be useful to him. Jack is promised money for his men and information if he can become a spy for the Medici and manages to infiltrate the mysterious fraternity Court of Wolves. Lorenzo does not know who their members are, what their plans are, whether they are his enemies. , whether they were involved in the French priest’s disappearance. Thus the main plot of the book is set out: Jack must go undercover as an English knight and immerse himself in the aristocracy of Renaissance Florence. He learns more about the enigmatic Academy and what Jack’s father mission actually was.
It is an ambitious task that Young has set herself – taking her readers and characters through the most important events in Europe at the end of the Middle Ages and thus guide us through the birth of the early modern world. The previous book explored the final face of the War of the Rotes and the emergence of the Tudor dynasty. Now we follow the Medici-dynasty, Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain and Colombus’ preparations for his big world-changing journey. It is impressive that Young bring her characters to all of these important places and people without the plot feeling forced. In this regard she echos the talent of the most impressive historical fiction writer I know of: Dorothy Dunnet. Believe me, this is the highest praise I can give an author!
Part of the reason I did not enjoy this book as much is Jack Winther. He is not that impressive a hero considering all the mistakes he makes, all the traps he does not foresee and that he generally must rely on others to save him. Of course, a protagonist need not be superhuman or faultless to be engaging and interesting, but Jack’s personality remains as bland as in the previous book – there does not seem to be much more to him than finding the truth of his parents. Perhaps Young has made herself too large a cast of characters and too many different places of action that there is just too little space for character development?