I enjoy a good historical romp. I’m a big fan of Phillipa Gregory and Hilary Mantel. There’s a certain amount of artistic licence allowed in fleshing out the lives of historical characters with the details of their everyday lives. Sometimes we’re shown events from the perspective of another, lesser known character, such as in the ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, where we hear the story of Mary Boleyn, Anne’s older sister. Sometimes through the eyes of one of the main protagonists, such as Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s advisor, during his divorce and ill-fated marriage to Anne. Sometimes the main character is entirely imagined.
I must admit that when I first picked up Wolf Hall, I thought the Thomas Cromwell was Oliver Cromwell! I have mentioned in this blog before, how sketchy my history knowledge is! I’m also not good with names! I was quite looking forward to hearing about the Civil War, as it’s a period I know little about. B.C. (before covid), I was lucky enough to spend a weekend in Newark, which was the site of a famous civil war battle and has the UK’s civil war museum. A fascinating and informative place. However, on beginning to read I realised it was another book set during the rule of Henry Eighth. I was initially disappointed, but then found a whole new aspect of the familiar story to enjoy.
I was delighted therefore, to get the chance to read this month’s first book for review, The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn and published by Simon & Shuster (www.simonandshuster.com) on the 7th January 2021.
Its front cover title reads, ‘He may the The Smallest Man in England, but Nat Davy has a big story to tell’, which is certainly the longest title I’ve seen for a while. It is set in 1625 and our hero, Nat Davy is just 10 years old. His childhood has been poor but happy, living in a small village with his parents and his brother. But now the truth is dawning on Nat. He is small. Really small. And he’s stopped growing. Narrowly escaping life in a freak show, he’s plucked from his family and presented as a gift to the new young queen of England – a human pet to add to her menagerie of dogs and monkeys. But when Nat realises she’s as lost and lonely as he is, the two misfits begin and unlikely friendship, one that takes him on an unforgettable journey, as England slides into the cilvil war that will tear it apart and ultimately lead the people to kill their king.
This is English author, copywriter and Journalist, Francis Quinn’s (@franquinn) first novel. Having read English at King’s College Cambridge, she has gone on to write for such titles as Prima, Good Housekeeping, She, Woman’s Weekly and Ideal Home. She lives in Brighton with her husband and two Tonkinese cats.
Frances has taken the story of Jeffrey Hudson, a real figure and the court dwarf to King Charles the first and his queen, Henrietta Maria. Jeffrey was given as a present to the queen in the similar circumstances to the book. He became popular at court and was given the duty of fetching the queen’s midwife from France. He too suffered bullying and ridicule and engaged in a public challenge to protect his name, which resulted in tragedy and in Jeffrey’s case disgrace and expulsion from court. Jeffrey was captured by Barbary pirates and after release rejoined the exiled Queen. He may have aided her as a spy and he was implicated in a Popish plot and imprisoned until his death.
While it may seem, I’ve indulged in some spoilers here, the narrative of the book and the truth take different paths on the whole with some unions. Nathanial’s story gives us an adventure, a romance and just rewards for loyalty. It is a thoroughly enjoyable romp. Nathanial is an engaging character, larger than life, despite his diminutive stature. One cover quote from the book is from Nathanial’s mother, when she tells him, ‘ I want you to remember something Nat. You’re small on the outside. But inside, you’re as big as everyone else. You show people that and you won’t go far wrong in life.’ This really sets the tone of the book. It is a story of someone overcoming their disadvantages and accepting themselves for who they are. This is very on message at the moment. I think the book would be a great young adult read as well as for adults.
As I googled Jeffrey Hudson, the long fascination with ‘little people’, another acceptable term for dwarfs, became clear. Revered by the Egyptians, seen as sideshow curiosities by the Victorians and exploited by Hollywood, in more recent times, they have fought for rights denied to them. I enjoyed the characters and the story. It had drama and intrigue. It also had a gentle romance and a ‘will they, wont they?’ get together. It was a fun read. I think that the subject of dwarfism was handled sensitively and positively, and I hope it is well received.
So, with Covid19 regulations in certain places relaxed in the run up to the festive season, Get out and support your local book store, by going (if you feel safe doing so) in person or clicking and collecting a copy for yourself or ordering a book that’s big on adventure and small in stature, as a Christmas present for a loved one.
Reviewed by Georgina Murphy
This book review is part of a Random Things blog tour, to see what the other reviewers thought, visit their blogs listed below. Then, if you get a copy and read it, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.