THE KING’S SHADOW
Author: Barbara Gaskell Denvil
Simon & Schuster RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Set in the uneasy War of the Roses era, The King’s Shadow is a detailed piece of historical fiction not unlike the tapestries that depict scenes of the time. Over the past year, my interest in historical fiction has increased significantly and I have come to enjoy being transported back to long-ago days (though never quite wishing I lived in those times). This particular era was defined by political machinations, shifting alliances and power plays, brutality, extreme poverty (for most), fleeting glory for rulers, and instability, and Barbara Gaskell Denvil does a worthy job bringing this all to life. It’s not all thrills and spills … readers have a welcome respite from the cloak and daggers background with a passionate romance between the protagonists.
As with Gaskell Denvil’s earlier novel, Sumerford’s Autumn, The King’s Shadow contains a raft of unconventional characters. Tyballis, forced into marriage at 14 with an oafish and abusive man, escapes her lot in life and comes across Andrew Cobham, a man of secrets who houses a motley gathering of thieves, informers, prostitutes and children in his grand but unkept home. It is 1483 and King Edward IV wears England’s crown, but no king rules unchallenged, and it’s in this turbulent time that the king dies unexpectedly. Rumours of poisoning abound and Andrew invites Tyballis to help him separate fact from fiction, and uncover treason. They soon discover that they are in as much danger of falling for each other as they are being caught by the wrong people.
The King’s Shadow is a long book, filled with detail and highlighting Gaskell Denvil’s dedication to research and strength in scene setting. However, the story does drag a little at times and could benefit from being a bit shorter. How historically accurate is it? I’m no historian so I wouldn’t like to speculate on that and I’ll leave that for those who really know their history. Characterisation was fairly good, with some nasty characters adding to the tension. However, I wasn’t convinced by the characterisation of Tyballis, who didn’t quite fit the class she was meant to represent. She seemed a step up from her peers, mainly due to her dialogue. On the plus side, she was no meek and mild maid – she had guts and tenacity, and because of this, Andrew’s attraction to her was believable. For the most part, the romantic element did work and there was plenty of chemistry (and conflict) between Tyballis and Andrew; however, one “passionate” scene made me raise my eyebrows because I felt it was all about the man and didn’t really fit with the ahead-of-its-time partnership that had been set up. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am … not so much. That aside, the awakening romance between Tyballis and Andrew was a light point in an at times dark story.
I would hesitate to describe this as historical romance – the dominant element really is the the turmoil surrounding England’s rulers, rulers-to-be and wannabe rulers. For those who enjoy historical fiction with a side serving of romance, The King’s Shadow is worth a read. If you’re after a romance, this one may be a bit long and heavy on detail to make your heart flutter. Your call. I had fun reading it, but I did get to a point when I wanted the story to move along a bit faster.
Available from good bookstores. This copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.
Bookish treat: Tyballis mentions pies at one point. I could eat a chicken and leek one about now.