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on Aug. 14, 2010 :
When I began reading Nan Hawthorne’s introduction to this lengthy and gripping tale of Anglo Saxon England, I thought I was in for a fairy tale. An Involuntary King is a story honed from childhood with a friend, a hero named after Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence of Arabia (no other connection apart from Hawthorne being a huge fan) and a princess-cum-queen nicknamed Sunshine. Throw in a dark and stormy suitor from across the sea and two fun-loving and slightly reckless Irish bards and you still might have your fairy tale.
But there are no dragons, no trolls and elves, certainly no good faeries.
If there is a question mark with An Involuntary King it would simply be in the names, Lawrence the reluctant king and his bride, Josephine. All others have typical Saxon, Gaelic or Celtic names. Their kingdom, bordering the North Sea, is a fictitious ‘Crislicland’ (I dared to pronounce this ‘Crelland’ for an easier read, an English trait don’t you know?) but the settlements and geography are real enough, located more or less in Lincolnshire and its surrounds. The name thing is a quirk that takes only as long as a few pages to discover that here is historical fiction that refuses to be constrained by pigeon holes - it is adventure, romance, intrigue, plotting, betrayal and war, the hint of fairy tale swiftly fading as we are engaged in realistic and exceptionally well researched eighth century Anglo Saxon England.
Lawrence is an involuntary king only as long as it takes to marry his perfect bride and get to grips with ruling a kingdom beset with threats from within and without. Josephine, the queen, is pretty handy with a bow and strong of will, though her spirited self belief does lead her to make the odd boo boo, but hey, it helps a plot to have a few imperfections in otherwise perfect specimens. She’s a very good mother, too, even when the chips are down.
Hawthorne is not afraid to take risks, particularly with the gay Irish mercenary O’Donnell who has a Scots lover but also has the hots for one of the bards, the dashingly handsome Rory. This, as well as battle and rape scenes, is handled sensitively. An Involuntary King is written by a woman but it is not just for women. Some men might want more cut and thrust, but Nan is not one for pandering to such demands. Death, mutilation, hanging and pillage are given just enough detail, so we move on. Characters are well formed, endearing or otherwise in appropriate measure.
There’s humour, too. For example, Hawthorne has the shorter bard, explaining Rory’s unusual height for a Celt, saying: “There was a Norseman in the woodpile.” That I found laugh out loud hilarious, one of a number of little gems scattered throughout.
There are shades of Robin Hood (the innocent unjustly treated but they still love the king and queen) and Richard the Lionheart (a bard singing outside King Lawrence’s cell to identify him and raise his hopes of rescue). This is a rich, enjoyable read, full of likely and unlikely heroes, nasty and/or crafty baddies, and some who fall in between, struggling with their motivation and usually fancying the lovely queen. And who can blame them?
Well done Nan. More stories like this please, especially if carefree Irish bards have a central role. Read it and escape to another land…
(reviewed the day of purchase)
on April 07, 2010 :
By any standards, this is a good book. For a first novel, it's excellent.
In many ways, this story is much more myth than historical fiction, set in a world of larger-than-life characters where love, danger, and betrayal are never more than seconds away. It manages wonderfully in giving the feel of 8th-century Britain, and combines it with an excellent plot and human characters. My biggest complaint is that some of the secondary characters really should have their own stories (Elerde in particular). There was just something fascinating about him as a character, and I would have liked (and would like) to see how his story ends.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)
on Nov. 29, 2009 :
For a first novel, this book is wonderful. Of course, anything forty years in the making should be wonderful. It has a flowing love story with side flirtations, but total loyalty up to the chivalrous standards and ideals associated with the high middle ages rather than Saxon England when this story is set. The supporting characters, especially Rory and Shannon the bards, are as well fleshed out as the protagonists and antagonists, and perhaps even more lovable. You do not want to miss lovable little Godgifu who is only two as she saves the king at his lowest point. This is not another from here to there and back again book, although much of the tale is about how Queen Josephine and King Lawrence follow entwining but separate paths back to their children and each other when the vile usurper holds the children hostage during a total war for two kingdoms. Will either of them get there in time to save the family and each other? You will enjoy reading to the end to find out.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)
on Nov. 07, 2009 :
An Involuntary King is a wonderful, involving tale of Anglo-Saxon England. Lawrence, who never thought of himself as a leader, is suddenly thrust into the role of King after the sudden battle death of his father and older brother. His life turned upside down, he has to divide himself between the threats from those who would usurp his crown, and to his own family from a rival warrior who has set his sights on Lawrence's queen.
Unique characters and epic battle scenes make this an unforgettable story. You'll also learn a lot about the Anglo Saxon era, and will be intrigued by the origins of the story as described in the Introduction. Buy this book!
(reviewed the day of purchase)