Book Review: “A Wider World” by Karen Heenan

56860771._SY475_The year is 1558, and Queen Mary I is dying. England is engaged in a war between the Reformation and Catholicism. Caught in the middle is an older man named Robin Lewis, who is being taken to London to face his death as a heretic. Fearful that his story may never be told, Robin Lewis tells his captor his tale through the reigns of three Tudor rulers, Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary I. Can his story save his life from certain destruction, or is Robin doomed for all eternity? This is the premise of Karen Heenan’s second book in The Tudor Court series, “A Wider World.”

I want to thank Karen Heenan for sending me a copy of this book. I really enjoyed her first novel, “Songbird,” so I was looking forward to seeing where Heenan would take the series.

We have met Robin Lewis in “Songbird” as the rival of Bess and the stuck-up kid in Music. We don’t see much of his story in the first novel. Heenan has decided to take this side character that is a bit polarizing and write a novel about his life, which I love.

It is a bold choice to start a novel with the protagonist being sentenced to death for being a heretic, but the way Heenan structures this story is brilliant. Heenan begins her novel with Robin’s arrest and his captor, William Hawkins, taking him from the countryside to London to be locked in the Tower. Robin acts like a Tudor Scheherazade to delay the inevitable, telling his story through flashbacks to Hawkins.

What makes this story so unique are those flashbacks that are so vivid and filled with men and women that shaped Robin into the man that he became. Robin is a bookworm who prefers the company of texts to other people, so to see him interact with others is just a delight. They include brothers of a monastery, a servant named Seb, and a beautiful Italian woman named Bianca, who shared Robin’s love of learning. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Tudor novel without famous figures such as Wolsey, Cromwell, and Holbein. Heenan uses these figures as secondary characters to enhance Robin’s story.

At the heart of this novel is the dissolution of the monasteries and Robin’s travels abroad, especially his stops in Italy. Although Cromwell forces Robin to help dissolve the monasteries, his past with monks makes him question the assignment he has been given. Robin’s faith and his relationships with the church in England and Italy are very distinct and shape how he views the charges brought against him at the beginning of this novel.

Heenan has once again made a delightful tale of struggles inside the Tudor court by someone on the sidelines. The blending of English history with elements from other cultures was inspiring. Weave current events with a character’s past is extremely difficult, yet Heenan does it seamlessly. This enchanting novel is the perfect sequel to “Songbird.” If you are a fan of Tudor historical fiction, “A Wider World” is a must-read.

Book Review: “The Survival of the Princes in the Tower: Murder, Mystery and Myth” by Matthew Lewis

35888548One of the greatest mysteries of all time is what happened to the young princes, the sons of Edward IV, who were held in the Tower of London. Many people believed that they were killed. There are some who believe that Richard III had them murdered and there are some who say that Henry VII ordered the deed to be done. But what if they were never killed? What if they survived? That is the premise of Matthew Lewis’s book “The Survival of the Princes in the Tower: Murder, Mystery and Myth”.

I have always been one of those people who believed that the princes were indeed murdered and that the one who ordered their murders was Richard III. I have read the “sources” and I came to my own conclusions. A few months ago, I attended the Tudor Summit (for those of you who do not know what this, look it up it is a fantastic two- day summit with fellow Tudor nerds) and one of the speakers was Matthew Lewis. Normally I don’t pay attention to the Ricardian side of this debate, but his talk made me interested, so I decided to read his book.

I am really glad I decided to read this book. It gave me something new to think about when it comes to this mystery and it did it in such a constructive way that made sense. Lewis starts his book by exploring the facts and the different sources that made the case that the princes were murdered, and then he looks at why these sources have been misinterpreted and don’t tell the whole story. For example, the fact that More said that Edward IV died in his fifties when in fact he died when he was in his forties, which is a big age gap.  Lewis asks rather obvious questions about the anti- Ricardian argument like why did Elizabeth Woodville turn over to her sons if she believed that Richard III was truly evil. It was by going through these sources and these obvious questions that started to create a lot of doubt in my mind whether or not the side I was on in this debate was accurate.

Lewis then dives into the lives of those we call the “pretenders”, Lambert Simnel and image015Perkin Warbeck. These were the most famous pretenders and the ones who challenged Henry VII’s right to the throne. If they were really the princes in the tower, why were they defeated? Why were they considered pretenders? Lewis explores other people who could possibly be the princes, including a theory by amateur art historian Jack Leslau on “The Family of Sir Thomas More” by Hans Holbein the Younger.

The theory that Matthew Lewis presents in this book is very unique. In order to understand what he is trying to do, you have to be open to a different perspective on this quagmire of a topic: the princes in the tower. There are certain books that come along and totally shake what you believe in, but you should not be afraid to read these kinds of books. I did not know what to expect when I started this book, but Lewis presented an argument that made sense and made me question everything I thought I knew about this mystery. Now I want to reread the sources and try to understand them better. I would recommend this book for anyone who thinks Richard III is innocent, guilty, or you are unsure of your position in this debate. “The Survival of the Princes in the Tower: Murder, Mystery and Myth” by Matthew Lewis breathes new life into this debate and begs the question: what if the princes in the tower lived?