This Son of York – by Anne Easter Smith – independent book review – Historical Fiction (England)

I should acknowledge at the start that I am a TOTAL GEEK when it comes to England’s King Richard III, who is probably THE single most interesting royal in the country’s history. As a result, I’ve read lots of both fiction and non-fiction about him. I am also a big fan of Anne Easter Smith’s historical novels. Unfortunately, this particular novel, that I looked forward to with GREAT anticipation, didn’t quite do all I had hoped. Awarded four stars on Goodreads, which might be a bit generous.

First, a bit of background. What makes Richard so interesting to me is how maligned history has made him. He is generally portrayed as the vicious, humpback murderer of the “two Princes in the Tower” — a narrative created by the likes of William Shakespeare and Sir Thomas More. But after reading DAUGHTER OF TIME, by author Josephine Tey ( aka Elizabeth MacKintosh 1896-1952), I came to believe that these Tudor-era writers were simply adhering to the Tudor Dynasty narrative. After all, at the time they were writing, Tudors were on the throne.

Stay with me – here comes a little history. It’s all because the founder of the Tudors, Henry VII, who defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth and then took his crown, had to paint Richard as a villain in order to legitimize the Tudor Dynasty (since his own claim was pretty flimsy). It was all 15th century public relations.

Many writers subsequently, AND The Richard III Society have done a lot of work dispelling this dark image and instead paint Richard as a dutiful, loyal brother who was forced to assume his brother’s (Edward IV) throne and tried to do his best as king. (Not a portrait that would have served the usurping Tudors.)

So, here’s what I like about THIS book:
• It follows Richard throughout his entire life and Smith does a good job fleshing out a childhood where Richard, as the youngest child and fourth son, gets much less attention than his older siblings.
• The author also introduces a young version of Richard’s infamous brother George (later Duke of Clarence) and makes him just as bullying and detestable as he proves to be in his adult life.
• Smith also offers believable motivations for Richard throughout his life, especially in areas where there is little historical information.

My biggest complaint is the uneven use Smith made of the narrator’s viewpoint. Let me explain. For most of the book I was fully immersed in Richard’s story, as it was unfolding. Watching WITH him as he observes the dangerous and difficult lives of those who have the responsibility for governance and believably reflecting that he is pleased NOT to have to carry such a burden. So, when Richard thinks about how glad he is to be a fourth son who will never become king (even though WE know he will) it feels in keeping with and authentic to his viewpoint.

Then, abruptly and WAY TOO often, the author inserts some cryptic remark about Richard’s future, even though Richard (like all of us) can’t know what will happen in his future. These heavy-handed statements like “He couldn’t know how important this decision would become” OR “it was impossible for Richard to know how this event would haunt him.” These “interruptions” completely pulled me out of Richard’s story, so that I was suddenly looking at him through the long lens of time.

Anne Easter Smith Image from her Website

And I can’t figure out any good reason for the author doing this. Perhaps it was her way of dropping a morsel to keep me reading. But I found it distracting and annoying. In my view, you either have Richard’s life unfold as it would have for him, in sequence (my preference for historical fiction because it makes more historical characters like us). Or, you write as an omniscient narrator who knows ALL and shares it along the way. But it didn’t work for me to try to do both.

It’s not a big enough flaw to turn me off to this writer. I have enjoyed her other books way too much. It’s just that her other historical novels, many related to Richard III, rank higher on my list.

More about Anne Easter Smith.

You may be interested in my reviews of other historical novels by Anne Easter Smith:

Queen by Right

Daughter of York

A Rose for the Crown