Tuesday, September 29, 2020

#BookReview: The Boy King by Janet Ambrosi Wertman

Biographic Fiction

The Seymour Saga #3

Buy Links

Social Media

The Unsuspecting Reign of Edward Tudor

Motherless since birth and newly bereft of his father, King Henry VIII, nine-year-old Edward Tudor ascends to the throne of England and quickly learns that he cannot trust anyone, even himself.

Edward is at first relieved that his uncle, the new Duke of Somerset, will act on his behalf as Lord Protector, but this consolation evaporates as jealousy spreads through the court. Challengers arise on all sides to wrest control of the child king, and through him, England.

While Edward can bring frustratingly little direction to the Council’s policies, he refuses to abandon his one firm conviction: that Catholicism has no place in England. When Edward falls ill, this steadfast belief threatens England’s best hope for a smooth succession: the transfer of the throne to Edward’s very Catholic half-sister, Mary Tudor, whose heart’s desire is to return the realm to the way it worshipped in her mother’s day.

Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived.

Henry VIII's quest for a legitimate male heir is immortalized in the well-known rhyme, but what of the child that drove his desperation? Though he can occasionally be found in a supporting role and is often mentioned in Tudor novels, Edward VI's most significant fictional moment was arguably shared with Tom Canty in Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper. That is, until now. 

Collectively, Janet Wertman's Seymour Saga chronicles the political ebb and flow of the noble family from which it takes its name, but I think the trilogy's framing is what makes it worthy of note. By centering each installment of the series around mother, father, and son, Wertman draws attention to a recognizable family unit and, in so doing, manufactures a sense of domestic intimacy in a royal house characterized by inconstant affection and competing interest. As a reader, I fell hard for this idea and freely admit feeling Wertman's approach to the material delivers a particularly poignant punch in the series finale, The Boy King. 

Unlike his parents, Edward is a child when he comes to his throne. The vipers of his court are quick to prey on his inexperience, and Edward is not always capable of recognizing the dangers. His tendency to turn inward, however, to draw guidance from the legacies of his parents, poetically anchors the larger arc of the series while illustrating a fundamental desire for parental love and approval. The end result is relatable and sympathetic, but it also emphasizes the tragic realities of Edward's short life, the pressures he faced, the potential he wished to realize, the reasoning behind his missteps, and the isolation he experienced at the very pinnacle of power. 

Mary Tudor serves as a second narrator in The Boy King, and I would be remiss in neglecting my admiration for the agency Wertman gifted her character. Mary's legacy is drenched in blood, and where most authors allow history to drive their characterization of Mary, Wertman challenges readers to understand Mary as a woman brought to odds by a conflict of sisterly compassion and fierce religious conviction. The Boy King is Edward's story, but it lays the groundwork for Mary's reign and pays homage to the strengths and weaknesses her historic counterpart exhibited on taking the throne after Edward's death. 

The dramatic rivalry between Edward Seymour and John Dudley makes intense reading, but I loved how it played to the influence each exerted in Edward's court. Though relegated to supporting roles, I also appreciated what Elizabeth and Cheke brought the story. Wertman's focus is clearly on Edward, but the author's nuanced understanding of the period creates a diverse and layered social landscape that is unmatched by most, if not all, of her peers. 

Highly recommended both as a standalone and series read. Wertman's work is among the best Tudor fiction on the market.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Author
Read: July 25, 2020