Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Review: The Queen's Dwarf by Ella March Chase

From the Back Cover:

It's 1629, and King Charles I and his French queen Henrietta Maria have reigned in England for less than three years. Young dwarf Jeffrey Hudson is swept away from a village shambles and plunged into the Stuart court when his father sells him to the most hated man in England—the Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham trains Jeffrey to be his spy in the household of Charles’ seventeen-year-old bride, hoping to gain intelligence that will help him undermine the vivacious queen’s influence with the king.

Desperately homesick in a country that hates her for her nationality and Catholic faith, Henrietta Maria surrounds herself with her "Royal Menagerie of Freaks and Curiosities of Nature"—a "collection" consisting of a giant, two other dwarves, a rope dancer, an acrobat/animal trainer and now Jeffrey, who is dubbed "Lord Minimus."

Dropped into this family of misfits, Jeffrey must negotiate a labyrinth of court intrigue and his own increasingly divided loyalties. For not even the plotting of the Duke nor the dangers of a tumultuous kingdom can order the heart of a man. Though he is only eighteen inches tall, Jeffrey Hudson's love will reach far beyond his grasp—to the queen he has been sent to destroy.

My Thoughts:

The moment I saw this book, I wanted to read it. I'm interested in learning more about the English Civil Wars, I'd been keen to read one of Ella March Chase's books, and I'm always on the lookout for something unique in English historical fiction, and if you are too, you should add The Queen's Dwarf to your list. Ms. Chase paints a vivid picture of life at court from an unusual and refreshing angle, that of an entertainer, and not just any entertainer, but one of the wonders of England at the time, Jeffrey Hudson, or as he was commonly known, Lord Minimus, a perfectly formed human in miniature.

Discovered by the Duke and Duchess of Buckingham, Jeffrey is thrust from a life of poverty and dancing in the market square to earn a few coins for his starving family into a world filled with more wealth, more splendor, and more excess than he could have imagined. He is presented as a gift to the young French queen, Henrietta Maria, who has a soft spot for misfits and curiosities. As a member of the queen's "Menagerie of Freaks," Jeffrey is treated to such luxuries as a room of his very own, more clothes than he can wear, and all the food he can eat, and, as he works his way into Her Majesty's heart, he is showered with personal gifts, and one of the greatest gifts of all, an education. But he has a hard time reveling in his good fortune, for he carries a burdensome secret: he is a spy for the Duke of Buckingham.

The duke is King Charles's favorite, though he is despised by just about everyone else in England for his military disasters and his influence on the king. And the duke despises the queen most of all, for she alone has the power to usurp his position in the king's heart, and her Catholic faith and powerful Catholic allies could have the power to tip the tenuous religious balance in England. So while Jeffrey entertains the lonely and isolated young queen, and comes to care for his menagerie family, he is forced to share her secrets with her worst enemy, or watch his family suffer the consequences. But as pressure mounts on the queen and England teeters on the brink of war, Jeffrey will have to decide how far he is prepared to go to save his family, and how far he will go to save the queen he has grown to love from the man determined to destroy her.

I very much enjoyed The Queen's Dwarf and reading about the court of Charles I from Jeffrey's intimate, inside point of view. Aside from a few instances of "as you know, Bob" dialogue, the book is very well written. My biggest disappointment came after I finished and I discovered that a lot of the content was fictional. Most of the characters were real historical figures, (including Jeffrey and the giant Will Evans--the queen even had her portrait painted with Jeffrey and Pug the monkey, by van Dyck, no less) but several of the big plot points that involved Jeffrey did not actually happen. So while I really enjoyed the story, I felt a bit deflated upon finding out how much dramatic license had been taken. Silly, I know. I'm not necessarily a historical purist. But I do like fiction about real people to be more fact than fiction, and if it's not, I kind of like to know that going in. But the depiction of the time period is marvelous, and because Jeffrey is from the shambles, the reader gets to experience both the best and worst that life had to offer people of different social stations during this time. The political and religious turmoil is also well depicted. Enough to give me a clear picture of what was going on without overloading the story. And I very much enjoyed getting to know a young Henrietta Maria, and through her, a little bit of Charles I. I thought this passage eloquently summed up the pressure heaped upon Henrietta from all sides, and the ridiculousness of it:

The pope, the dowager queen, the king of France, Buckingham and Richlieu, even King Charles had flung a fifteen-year-old princess into the center of their religious battles. What had they expected would happen? That this slender young woman would sort out a tangle no one had been able to unravel since Martin Luther had nailed his protest onto a church door?

Overall, The Queen's Dwarf was a winner for me. It's a truly unique novel full of interesting characters, intrigue and betrayal, woven around moments of magic and wonder, laughs and love. Jeffrey has a long life ahead of him in Henrietta Maria's menagerie, and when he's older some really exciting stuff does actually happen to him, so I can't help but hope Ms. Chase will someday pen a sequel.

My Rating:  4 Stars out of 5

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This giveaway is open to residents of the US and ends at 11:59pm Monday, May 5, 2014. Winner will be selected at random. Thanks, and good luck!


  1. I was captivated with your excellent review. Thanks for this great giveaway. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  2. ...but several of the big plot points that involved Jeffrey did not actually happen. Isn't that a bummer? I don't know why I'm crushed when that happens, but I am -- maybe because I wanted it to be true? Anyway, this sounds like a marvelous novel -- I'd seen it but hadn't seen any reviews, and I'm glad you liked it!

  3. Sounds like an interesting book! westmetromommy(at)gmail(dot)com

  4. Great review that has piqued my interest in this book. I have added it to my TBR list.

    tmrtini at gmail (dot) com

  5. This does sound unique, I'd be very interested in reading it. Thanks for the chance to win a copy. carlscott(at)prodigy(dot)net(dot)mx

  6. I really want to read this one! What makes HF my favorite genre is I have learned so much about history I otherwise would not have known by questioning plot lines in historicals and then making myself look it all up to see if it happened.

    HPelkey1982 at yahoo (dot) com

    1. I know, I do the same thing! And then it's so easy to get sucked into tangents, looking up other people in the story and their parents and their descendants...

  7. I am so happy you are offering this giveaway! I first heard about this title months ago and have been eagerly waiting to read it! Awesome contest! --K

    shamy at post dot harvard dot edu

  8. I hadn't heard anything about this novel, but I love HF with this setting, such an interesting era of English history. Thanks for the giveaway.

  9. a 'must-read' for me!!!!
    thank you for the giveaway!!

    cyn209 at juno dot com

  10. I've always meant to read one of this author's novels; hope I snag this one, thanks.


  11. I would love to win a copy!!! allisonmmacias@hotmail.com


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