Requiem of the Rose King 1 by Aya Kanno

Requiem For The Rose King does for the English Wars of the Roses what Rose of Versailles did for the French Revolution. Genders are murky, everyone is beautiful, and historical accuracy is easily jettisoned in favor of over-the-top drama. It’s pure entertainment; a very Japanese ‘translation’ of an early Shakespeare Richard the III draft with an emphasis on ‘loose’. But this is also a timely topic with the recent find of Richard IIIs burial site under a parking lot in England last year.

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Story: Queen Margaret of Anjou and Richard Duke of York’s feud of 1455 has created the Wars of the Roses: bloodshed across the English country by divided noblemen fighting for the throne. On one side, Queen Margaret and her insane husband, King Henry the VI, whose emblem is the Lancastrian white rose. On the other side, Richard, Duke of York, whose emblem is a red rose. Richard and his wife Cecily have three children: the youngest, named after his father but born under ill omens and deformed, is the focus of our story. For this deformed child will grow up to become the infamous Richard the III, last of the medieval Kings of England. But before he grows up to be King, he will deal with his mother’s disgust, his father’s love, and his own warped ambition. For his deformity is being born an intersex and it has cursed him to impotence.

It was an interesting plot choice to take the hunchback King (Richard III was born with a curved spine) and instead turn that deformity into being born intersex. Since this is loosely based on Shakespeare, automatically we know Richard will be evil in this adaptation. Author Kanno has chosen to make him more misunderstood than demonic; a child resenting his quirk of birth and wanting more for his father and family. At the same time, he fights his mother, the devout Christian Cecily, who considers her child demonspawn and tries to desperately keep Richard from his father.

There are appearances from many historical figures; e.g., gender neutral Joan of Arc taunts young Richard as a specter of doom and Richard’s rival, King Henry, pious pacifist son of Margaret of Anjou. Those curious about actual events may want to keep a wikipedia entry handy. But really, it’s not needed to follow the story, which really is more about a good story than historical value. Villains, especially the women, are reminiscent of the “evil laugh behind a hand” type of 1970s shoujo evil queens. Margaret of Anjou is a lawn mower, Cecily Neville (Richard IIIs mother) is a fanatical insane, and Anne Neville (Richard’s future wife) has an inexplicable attraction to Richard. As such, the interesting characters are the males and their relationships with Richard as he moves around in medieval England.

The art is quite lovely and there is enough drama to keep readers entertained (and perhaps a bit curious about the actual events surrounding the Wars of the Roses and final fate of King Richard the III).

Reviewed from an ARC provided by the publisher.

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