Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Requiem of the Rose King
I've read the history of England's War of the Roses, and I've read the Shakespeare history plays Aya Kanno is basing Requiem of the Rose King on, Henry VI (all parts) and Richard III. But it is Kanno's manga that has truly made the players come alive. Arguably that's the role of historical fiction: to bring a bygone age to life, and to help us to see what are now dry historical figures as the living, breathing people they once were. In this regard, Kanno is exemplary, and volume seven's culmination of the Henry VI plot (what Kanno calls “Act One” of the series) was particularly powerful.
Volume eight marks the start of Act Two. We open directly following Henry's death – Prince Edward's widow Anne is fully under the power of her sister Isabelle, who seems torn between protecting the Neville family fortunes and simply controlling her disappointing sibling. Edward of York is on the throne, and he wants to reward his brother Richard for his valorous acts, which apparently include killing Henry. To this end, he offers Anne in marriage, and surprisingly Richard accepts. As the chapter unfolds, however, we can guess that this is a combination of his final kind acts as the person he once was (saving Anne) and his new total devotion to the House of York, as it will bring Anne's dowry and estates under their control. At this point the story skips ahead in time eight-odd years (judging by the age of Princess Elizabeth) and we see what time has wrought: Anne is miserable, she and Richard have a son, Edward, who is almost certainly not Richard's, George is a drunk, and Edward has lapsed into hedonism. Things aren't bad per se, but there are plenty of cracks for people to pry open.
Naturally Buckingham is one of those men. He's still keen on Richard becoming king, and he doesn't see Richard's familial devotion as being contrary to his own goal. The other, more ominous, person trying to tear things apart is a woman named Jane, a witch who had disguised herself as Isabelle's lady's maid in order to catch the eye of the king. She probably wouldn't have needed any of her witchy ways to do it, in all honesty, but Kanno uses Jane to demonstrate the attitudes towards witches in the fifteenth century while also highlighting Edward's later profligacy. (The fact that no one is entirely certain what he died of is also almost certainly part of what Kanno's working with.) It's worth noting that this is the period of history when it became “known” that witchcraft involved forming a pact with a demonic source, something that comes up a fair amount in this volume. Richard's intersex nature is thought to be the result of demonic interference in his birth, and the idea of curses and pacts leading to their efficacy, with the commensurate price to be paid, is a major factor as the story moves towards George of York's historical fate. Equally worth considering is the similarity between the names “Jane” and “Joan” – both are feminine forms of “John” which are written as “Jeanne” in French, significant because of Richard's haunting by Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc). The implication is that Richard cannot escape her shadow, with Jane playing a similar role to Joan, but a much more active and wide-reaching one: Joan was a ghost, visible only to Richard, but Jane is a flesh-and-blood woman with access to the king and pharmacological skills to maintain that access. Perhaps if Richard had not driven off his own personal demon, he would not now be trying to remove his brother's much more physical one.
Although Jane is not present in the historical record, Kanno continues to do a good job of blending history and Shakespeare to create a narrative that is simultaneously recognizable and new. Richard's discomfort with his body is still a major source of the character's angst, and we can see how he can be manipulated through it, with only Catesby being his safe person – or at least, the only person he cannot run off. This may build into a very tense situation with Buckingham, who glimpsed Richard's feminine features during a Jane-induced orgy in the throne room, which will further isolate Richard. The loss of Henry is the single biggest blow that Richard has suffered, and its repercussions continue to be felt across the story. If there's anything unquestionably worth paying attention to, it's that, because when Kanno introduces the character of James Tyrell, the man who confessed to killing the Princes in the Tower at Richard III's behest, she's clearly once again working to unbalance Richard's increasingly precarious hold on himself.
Requiem of the Rose King is fascinating. It takes historical figures and events and gives them a shoujo manga dose of drama, more in the style of Riyoko Ikeda than anyone more contemporary with its attention to detail. Kanno takes more liberties than Ikeda, but as with her previous series Otomen, she's clearly got something she wants to say about gender and power, and how discomfort with the former can lead to easy manipulation in service of the latter. The story is dark, and the art largely follows suit, with this volume taking the most risks in terms of adult content, both in violence and sex. But perhaps most significant is the cover of the book – Anne in shades of gray. She's both white and red (in that we can infer that the gray roses on her crown are Lancaster red), but mostly neither – an ordinary person caught up in a tragedy not of her making, but one which will control her life nonetheless. The gray rose symbolizes historical tragedy while a crown of roses is a sign of virtue. But white, red, or gray, in crowns or in bunches, all roses have the potential to draw blood – and in this story, that only symbolizes death.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-
+ Good blend of history and fiction, story progresses with a good balance of inevitability and suspense, strong symbolism
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