An Alternative History of Europe, III

The Salic Wars

Henri II was succeeded by his son by Margaret of Anjou, Édouard I the Peaceful; Édouard I was succeeded by his son by Mary of Burgundy, Charles VII. Their reigns were largely peaceful, as France-England expanded her power piecemeal and diplomatically. The great exception to this was the War of Savoyard Succession, in which Édouard pressed the claims of his son, Charles, to rule Savoy through his wife, Charlotte of Savoy, against the claims of her younger brother, Louis of Savoy, and cousin, Louis of Valois. Savoy (and to a lesser extend Valois) had backing from the Empire and the Italian states, but against the might of France they could not prevail. Nonetheless, though Charles became King of Grenoble as well as of France and England, he nonetheless retained the autonomy of Grenoble-Savoy and its local customs, granting it greater privileges than before. Importantly, the war was the beginning of a break between the House of Lancaster and the House of Vaudémont (Kings of Aragon, Sicily and Naples, Dukes of Anjou, Lorraine and Bar, Counts of Vaudémont and Provence).

By far the greater threat, however, was to come from within the double-kingdom. When Charles died in 1536, he left no heir but his daughter, Eleanor – a fact that legally ought to have brought the entire Lancastrian project to an end. By English law, Eleanor was the new Queen of England; yet by French law, the crown of France could not pass to a woman, and would instead pass to her uncle, Jean, Duke of Brittany (an independent country ruled through the claim of his wife, Anne of Brittany).

Fortunately for Eleanor, Jean de Bretagne was close ally of the York-Neville faction, and generally considered pro-English: in addition to the Yorkists, he was associated with the “Outremanche” faction (nobles whose power bases remained north of the Channel) and the “Cotentin” faction (nobles with interests close to those of England). His four years of quarrel with Eleanor, therefore, was largely a low-key affair of local rebellions and diplomacy – which cost him his son, Édouard.

Events became more dramatic with the assassination of Jean, as this moved the Salic claim to a noble closer to the interests of the French nativists. The French, however, could not agree on who that person might be. The leader of the rebellion was Charles, Duke of Orléans, descendent of Henri II’s younger brother; but a substantial faction favoured Louis of Valois, descendent of the disinherited son of Charles VI.

The war dragged on for seven more years, with Eleanor at one point forced to flee to Scotland, but its conclusion was inevitable. The death of Jean had moved the Yorkists and their allies into the camp of Eleanor, who therefore claimed the loyalty of all of England and Burgundy, and substantial numbers among the French nobles. Too many Frenchmen had cousins in England now, or English grandfathers, to want the union to dissolve at this point.

The lasting effect of the Salic Wars was a further commingling of lands, as loyalists on both sides of the channel was granted the lands of the defeated rebels. With French overwhelmingly the language of trade and poetry even in England, there were increasingly few real distinction between the two countries.

Above all, the wars favoured York – members of the intertwined York-Neville dynasty now held control of huge swathes of France and England, and in particular the head of the dynasty, Richard I, King of Navarre through his maternal line and Duke of Mercœur through his paternal line, now gained through his wife the sovereign Duchy of Brittany and the considerable Duchy of Guyenne, adjacent to his royal holdings (created as an appanage for Jean de Bretagne by his father, King Édouard).

Johnny and the Bomb, by Terry Pratchett

Johnny and the Bomb  is the concluding volume of a trilogy begun by Only You Can Save Mankind and continued by Johnny and the Dead – but to be honest, that doesn’t matter much. There are no continuing plot elements, only recurring characters, which get about as much definition in this volume as they did in preceding instalments (ie very little).

If you don’t remember my views on the first two books, here’s a quick summary: OYCSM is, in my opinion, an imaginative, funny, surprisingly mordant novella that deals with an off-the-wall and curious SF concept against the background of a realistic, well-characterised satirical portrayal of the 1990s, and is let down only by its overly simplistic, almost lazy plot resolution, and its general not-quite-under-controlness; Dead, on the other hand, is a more polished but also more lifeless novella, using the same trope (genre concept in 1990s small-town Britain with a cast of teenagers), without the accuracy or complexity of characterisation, without the darker undertow, without the same bite to the comedy, without the inherent interest and sophistication of the central conceit, and without much of the joie de vivre. Tastes may, of course, vary. But assuming my views on the first two novels aren’t wholly idiosyncratic: where does the third volume fall on this spectrum?

Somewhere in between. There is an exciting, enjoyable pace to this, and the conceit is a little less plain. On the other hand, it doesn’t really make any sense. The fact that it doesn’t make any sense is mostly covered up by the manic pace and the intentional confusion, but the fact does remain. Characterisation is rather better than in the second book, but not as good as in the first (although more realistic in terms of age-suitability). The writing is, throughout, excellent, particular in the earlier parts, where I found myself laughing out loud several times.  Sometimes I feel that Pratchett’s dialogue is what Aaron Sorkin wishes he could write. The humour is also pleasantly uncomfortable at times, thanks to the racial component, which Pratchett deals with extremely well, neither condoning racism nor preaching too overtly. [The less prominent attempts to deal with sexism came off rather less convincingly]. However, where OYCSM was based in reality and used the genre elements for counterpoint, Bomb is an all-out SF adventure romp, which makes it all feel rather safer.

Adrenaline: 3/5. Not an awful lot happens, but it happens very quickly, and I was quite carried away by it – although the air of safety, lack of real investment, and underlying nonsensical silliness prevented it from being thrilling.

Emotion: 1/5. Never actually cared about any of it. The characters are too cardboard and the peril too remote.

Thought: 2/5. The fact that it makes no sense, and the pace, forced my brain to keep active working out what was going on.

Beauty: 3/5. Funny, elegant prose, a clever idea… it’s all very pretty, I suppose. Lightweight, but pretty.

Craft: 4/5. As I’ve said before, Pratchett is a true master, when he wants to be. This feels a little slipshod, a little light, not quite satisfactory at the end, and generally not quite an inspired or diligent effort – but there’s almost nothing that’s actually wrong about it, nothing inept. I think the plot holes are a bit too big to give a perfect score.

Endearingness: 3/5. I found it likeable and enjoyable, but not a must-reread, because it was all a little too light.

Originality: 2/5. Large parts feel too familiar – the conceit has been pretty much worked over in the genre, and the execution is a bit too Prachettian, a bit too reheated. No surprise, I suppose – by this time, Pratchett had written The Carpet People, The Dark Side of the Sun, Strata, Truckers, Diggers, Wings, Good Omens, the first two Johnny Maxwell novels, and the first 18-20 Discworld novels. If sometimes he seems to be re-using characters and ideas, we should bear in mind just how many books he’s had to fill. [Tangent: has any modern author had a more stunning three years than Pratchett’s 1990-1993? Beginning with Moving Pictures, we got Reaper Man, Witches Abroad, Small Gods, Lords and Ladies, Men at Arms, Only You Can Save Mankind, the entire Bromeliad trilogy, and Good Omens! Eleven novels in a row and it’s hard to pick a bad one – a record that many authors would be pleased with for a lifetime, let alone three years work.

Overall: 4/7. Not Bad.

The less I post…

…the more people read this blog, it seems. Weird.