This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands,-- This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England. ~~William Shakespeare, Richard III

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Book Review: The Court of the Midnight King

The Court of the Midnight King, Freda Warrington
3.5 roses

I was really excited to finally get my hands on this book! It came in the mail from a friend over at Goodreads and I dove into immediately. It wasn't exactly what I had expected; it could almost be called historical fantasy because of the magical aspect involved. This is another version of Richard III's story and I really enjoyed it ... until the last 2 or 3 chapters. Then the author kind of lost me and I was left sitting there scratching my head. That is why, even though I liked the story, I only gave it 3.5 roses. Please be aware that in my review there could be some spoilers!!

Richard's story is seen through the eyes of two people, Katherine, a priestess/sorceress of the "old ways," and Raphael, a young boy who Richard saves and ends up serving him faithfully. The story spans from the death of Richard's father through Edward's reign up to the Battle of Bosworth and switches between their two points of view. Katherine and Richard run into each other by accident when Richard somehow wanders into "the hidden world" and they end up doing what lots of young people do when they find themselves alone. However afterward, Richard believes she is a witch and runs off. Kate ends up pregnant but manages to have the child in secret. She then serves Isabelle, Warwick's daughter, through their exile, return, Warwick's death, and finally Isabelle's own death. At that point, after fearing for her life at the hands of George, Duke of Clarance, she is sent to serve Isabelle's sister, Anne, now Richard's wife. There she tries to convince herself she is NOT in love with Richard and begins a relationship with Raphael. The rest of the story is about their relationship, her trying to avoid Richard (and ignore her feelings for him), Raphael's "visions" about what will happen to Richard and his reputation, and the battle that changes the history of England.

I had hoped that a story about Richard would be full of a lot more about him but instead we see a lot of Katherine's life. Since the story is from the point of view of two people who loved him, though with conflicting emotions sometimes, we do get to see him from two very different perspectives. These two fictional characters are interesting and I didn't mind reading about their lives. Richard himself is portrayed very realistically. He comes across as very human in his struggle between dark and light. The author shows Richard as innocent of ordering the murders of his nephews yet feeling guilty and to blame because he possibly "wished it" in his heart. I found this portrayal of Richard very touching; I really got a sense of how he suffered with this guilt he carried around. I could really sympathize with him and feel his suffering as he tried to do what was right and save his kingdom and his life.

His relationship with the two fictional characters is quite different: Raphael becomes a trusted friend who is beside him until the end and he is secretly in love with Katherine, turning to her for her honest opinion many times. Raphael never wavers in his devotion to Richard, despite the horrible visions he has about what will happen to Richard's reputation. This devotion does become an issue between him and Kate as she tries throughout the story to convince herself that she hates Richard. As to Richard and Kate - have you ever read a story where you wished the two characters would just "do it?" Well, that is how I felt about Kate and Richard at several points in the story. They both struggle with their feelings for each other even though they constantly turn to one another for comfort and/or opinions. We see other historical people throughout the story but none of them play a pivotal role in the author's narrative; they're there because they were really there in fact. We also see the "author's" life in a few snatches as she researches and becomes immersed in Richard and Raphael's stories. I didn't really like the inclusion of these parts though I understand why they were included.

The book is full of very descriptive writing - you can really see, hear, feel, taste what is being described. You really get a sense of place and time in the writing. The author does a great job with all the details and I never felt bogged down by them. I could almost close my eyes and see what she was talking about. The fantasy aspect to this story did not set too well with me. Some would have been okay but it was a bit over the top at some points for my taste. There is kind of an idealized point of view on the conflict between the Church and the old pagan ways but it is possible to believe that some of those old ways were still around at this time. The whole story really moved along at a fast pace until the end and then it was weird. The last few chapters had Kate and Raphael somehow interacting with the "author" and there was talk of parallel universes and things of that nature. That is where I began scratching my head in confusion. I am not going to mention here what happens with the Battle of Bosworth or the few days afterward but it was not what I was expecting at the end of this book. While I don't mind the author's take on this, it seemed a bit out of place with the rest of the story. Her "could have been" just seemed far fetched to me, even though it fit with the struggle between the "hidden and outer worlds" that had been a constant throughout the rest of the story.

This is a good book, don't get me wrong, and I'm sure I will read it again because I did enjoy it, even if I was a bit confused at the end. Warrington seems to have done her homework where Richard is concerned and she is a great storyteller. I would recommend this to anyone interested in reading about Richard. Die hard Ricardians will be pleased that he isn't portrayed as a villain and those that really know nothing about him will be swept into the story.

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