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The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Historical Fiction

By Swirl and Thread

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The Smallest Man is published with Simon & Schuster and is described as a ‘compelling story and perfect for fans of The Doll Factory and The Familiars’. The novel was inspired by the life of Jeffrey Hudson, the court dwarf to Queen Henrietta Maria, Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland and the wife of Charles I. Married at the tender age of fifteen in 1625, the Queen was openly despised by many for her Catholicism and her French ways. The King was heavily influenced by his court, in particular, the Duke of Buckingham, who held little respect for the new Queen. She was very much left to her own devices with just her ladies-in-waiting and a few pets to keep her company.

At the time, Charles I was facing discontent from members of Parliament. He very much believed in the Divine Right of the King but Parliament wanted more authority on the running of the country, resulting eventually in what we know as the English Civil War. Religious differences were rife among its people, England was facing some very difficult years ahead.

Nat Davy, a young boy of ten, lived in Oakham. Nat was a small person, a dwarf, but Nat didn’t know this at the time. He thought he just hadn’t grown yet. His mother protected him, telling him that his size would change as the years passed but Nat was beginning to wonder. When the fair came to town, Nat managed to gain access to a tent where there was a ‘faerie’ but what happened next changed the course of his life forever. When the fair master saw him, he recognised Nat as someone who could draw a crowd at his fair and offered money to his father. His father initially considered this option but changed his mind when a better offer came along. Nat was sold for a few shillings, eventually finding himself in the court of the King and Queen of England. He left his home, his family and especially his mother with her advice in his ear that would remain with him in the tough years ahead – “I want you to remember something, Nat. You’re small on the outside. But inside you’re as big as everyone else. You show people that and you won’t go far wrong in life.“

Nat Davy became a confidant to the young Queen. Commonly referred to as the Queen’s Dwarf, Nat and the Queen were two outsiders. With only a few years between them, neither were accepted into the lives that had been chosen for them. Initially she dressed him up in doll fashion to entertain and to be a plaything, but as time passed she got to know this young boy and a very unlikely friendship developed.

As civil unrest crossed the country, unnecessary death and destruction became part of the daily lives of a population. The Queen’s loyalty to the crown was questioned and seeds of doubt thrown the King’s way. Nat devised a plan for the Queen to be more accepted by the King but it wasn’t until after the assassination of the Duke of Buckingham in 1628, that the King finally realised the Queen for who she truly was. She was loyal, strong, fearless and determined. This young girl he had married had turned into a fighter, a woman of strength and passion. Charles I fell in love with his wife. Nat Davy was at her side during this transition from a coy fifteen year old to a woman of strong-will and perseverance.

Nat Davy faced many challenges while in court. He was very much aware of his size but he had dreams and had the resolve to be more, to go beyond the expectations that the world at large had for him. In his personal life, he missed his family terribly but as the years passed, the memories faded. Life with the Queen was a busy one and Nat fell into the day-to-day regime, eventually moving on from life in Oakham, but never forgetting his mother’s words.

The King continued to vex Parliament and it soon became very clear that the court needed to move and fast. The Queen was a hated figure, as many feared she wished to enforce Catholicism on the people. With Nat by her side, they fled to France in search of support and to buy arms to defend the King and all he stood for. The Civil War had begun in earnest. From that perspective, I found The Smallest Man to be quite an interesting story, historically speaking, as I must admit not to knowing much about the English Civil War. With very visual descriptions of locations and people, it was very easy to immerse myself into the life of the time.

The Smallest Man is a swashbuckler of a tale with a very unlikely hero in its midst, Nat Davy. A warm-hearted character who always saw the positive in people and loyal to the core, he believed in the bond of friendship. But he always struggled with self-love and self-respect. There is a love-story that lingers throughout this tale, a will-they-won’t-they scenario. It did drag out a little bit for me but, that is a minor quibble.

Nat was a devoted companion to the Queen, protecting her from danger in the most creative and imaginative ways, oft-times using his size to his advantage. From cross sea adventures, to duels and racing horses, Nat Davy lived his life to the full. Nat’s confidence in his size progressed through the story as he came to terms with what he had achieved in life. This novel carries a very strong message for us all – to not to be afraid of stepping up and being counted.

The Smallest Man is a highly enjoyable and charming read about self-discovery and acceptance. With wonderful historical insights interwoven throughout, this really is a captivating tale, one I thoroughly enjoyed.

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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