4 out of 4 stars
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Personally, I enjoy history greatly; however, many writings about history are drier than dirt. When I picked up A King Ensnared by J. R. Tomlin, I was not sure how it would read. Naturally, I hoped for an exciting tale about King James of Scotland as well as a sound treatment of life in the 1400's; however I half expected it to be dull. To my delight, I found this novel to be all that I hoped for and more.
The author introduces you to a rather young Prince James on the first page. James is striving to catch a lizard to find out if indeed the tail will grow back if pulled off! From that moment, I was sucked into the story. Unfortunately for James, he never had the chance to solve the lizard tail mystery, as important men came to deliver news to the king of the death of his son, James' older brother. James is immediately whisked away, hopefully to safety, as his life is now in jeopardy. Through a series of events, James ends up a captive of King Henry of England. A King Ensnared is the story of James' life.
I give major kudos to the author for the masterful handling of the time period, including the political and economic climate and the major world players of the day. Events portrayed were largely accurate to historical records; the author made note of any deviations. One hindrance to overall understanding could have been the plethora of historical characters; however, all characters essential to the understanding of the perilous time were developed so well, one would almost think that the author had met them in person. Dangers to the life and person of James were well-explained.
It can be a temptation to view history as just a bunch of facts, names, dates, places... In reality, the people who lived in history are much like we are today, only born into different circumstances. Even with all the historical accuracy in place, the author managed to develop this book so well that it read more like an adventure and even a budding romance than a dusty history book required for a university social studies course. The pace was realistic. The story is told through the eyes of Prince James of Scotland, allowing a natural suspense to play out as James waited year after year, never knowing if he was going to be executed or allowed to live another day.
Not only is this tale about Prince James, but there is also insight into King Henry IV of England and his son, Henry Monmouth. Characters are not whitewashed, but are portrayed realistically, showing both strengths and weaknesses. Another interesting facet is the use of an old Gaelic dialect throughout by relevant characters. Personally, this did not bother me, as the context was always enough to decipher what was being said. Additionally, lest this be a hindrance to any, the author includes a glossary in the back.
In short, I cannot say enough good about this book. I knew next to nothing about the history of Great Britain during the 15th century. While I would not consider myself an expert after merely one book, I could say that my overall understanding of that time period has been greatly expanded. J. R. Tomlin made this era come alive! Thankfully, the editing is overall clean; I found only two errors. My only regret about the book is that it was not long enough! On one hand, it almost ended with a cliffhanger, but as the author made it clear that this book was to talk about only one period of James' life, the book did end at a natural point in history. The next period will be treated in the next book. The author is forgiven! I am pleased to assign 4 out of 4 stars to A King Ensnared. I do feel that I would not recommend this to young readers, due to the nature of the content (wars are bloody). However any mature reader should find this to be a delight.
A King Ensnared
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