Servant of the Secret Fire

Random thoughts on books and life in the reality-based community

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The name I've chosen comes from "Lord of the Rings," when Gandalf faces down the Balrog in the Mines of Moria. My Hebrew name is Esther (which is related to the word for "hidden" or "secret") Serafina (which means "burning"). This seems appropriate because although I don't usually put myself forward, I do care very passionately about a lot of things. Maybe through these blogs I can share some of these passions, as well as less weighty ideas and opinions, with others.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Book Review: To the Tower Born

To the Tower Born by Robin Maxwell ****

To the Tower Born
is an enjoyable historical novel revolving around the enduring mystery of what happened to the "Princes in the Tower," the one-time Edward V and his brother Richard. Were they murdered by Richard III, the original Wicked Uncle? Was it Richard's closest adviser, their calculating cousin the Duke of Buckingham, who had his own eye on the throne? Was it Henry VII, who defeated Richard III at Bosworth Field? Or is it possible that they were not killed at all but kidnapped and/or rescued by other interested parties?

Robin Maxwell, the author of several books set in the Tudor period, serves up some gripping suspense, well-drawn characters and an original and intriguing solution to the mystery in this novel, which is told from the point of view of the princes' sister Elizabeth (Bessie), later the queen of Henry VII and the mother of Henry VIII. Since Elizabeth was in sanctuary with her mother and sisters during the crucial time and a lot of it takes place away from London, she is provided with an additional pair of eyes and ears in the person of Nell Caxton (based on a real person), the daughter of England's earliest printer, William Caxton, who was patronized by the kings throughout this period. As the author argues in her afterword, Caxton's daughter would certainly have been educated, which provides the opening to place her first at the side of Edward as his temporary Latin tutor and later as a secretary to Lady Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII's mother, where she is a witness to vital events and picks up important information.

As was pointed out by a reviewer on Amazon, there are a couple of annoying historical inaccuracies, but I found the story and characters to be compelling enough that they are mere annoyances. (Also, although Elizabeth Woodville did not attempt to marry her brother to the queen of Scotland, she did try to marry him to a Scottish princess.) There was also doubt expressed that a princess of England would have been allowed as much freedom as Bessie appears to have, but as I recall, the medieval courts were much less formal than those of the Renaissance, and I can imagine Edward IV, who was known for his "common touch," not being overly concerned with protocol. Some readers who are used to the later customs of keeping young noblewomen innocent of sexual matters may find the bawdy jokes and remarks of the two girls to be a bit jarring, but I suspect that there is a certain amount of accuracy in this as well.

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