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: “Brandon Tudor Knight” by Tony Riches

51j-cqj8dklA knight rescuing a princess and they lived happily ever after. This tends to be a cliché in every romantic fairy tale, but what if it actually happened? Though we do not have many romantic stories in the time of the Tudors because marrying for love was not the norm, one stands out. It is the story of Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor. Mary was the sister of Henry VIII and the Dowager Queen of France. Charles Brandon was one of Henry VIII’s knights and a champion jouster. They would fall in love and eventually marry, much to the chagrin of Mary’s brother, who wanted her to marry to ensure an alliance with another country for England. Charles Brandon, the knight who stole the heart of a former queen, is the focus of Tony Riches’ latest book, “Brandon Tudor Knight”.

I would like to thank Tony Riches for sending me a copy of “Brandon Tudor Knight”. Like the other book that I have read by Tony Riches, “Owen: Book One of the Tudor Trilogy”, it was easy to read and extremely enjoyable. Charles Brandon is often viewed as an afterthought, merely as the second husband of Mary Tudor. In this book, Charles Brandon is brought into the spotlight and given the attention he so rightfully deserves.

Charles Brandon was the son of the standard-bearer of Henry VII, who died during the Battle of Bosworth Field. His family has always been loyal to the Tudors and Charles wants to continue that legacy. He wants to be a great knight, just like his father was, so he does everything in his power to achieve his dreams. Charles is a hard worker and an accomplished jouster. To read about the joust through his perspective is fascinating and shows how physically demanding the sport was. Brandon becomes friends with the young Henry VIII before he was king. It is this friendship and his loyalty to his country that keeps Brandon going, even when times get really tough. His loyalty is really tested as he is sent time and time again to France to fight for his king and for his country.

When Brandon was a young man, he wanted to marry well so that he could gain money and power. He married Margaret Neville, but the marriage was declared null and void, so Charles then married Anne Browne, who was related to Margaret Neville. Charles and Anne had two daughters, Anne and Mary Brandon. After Anne Browne’s death, Charles went on a mission to France to retrieve Henry’s sister Mary who, after the death of her first husband, became the Dowager Queen of France.

Henry wanted to arrange a new marriage for his sister, but Charles and Mary had other ideas. The two lovebirds risked everything, married in secret, and then chose to tell Henry after the fact. Henry was rightfully upset, but he does accept the marriage. Charles and Mary have a large family, but their son Harry died very young, which was extremely hard for the couple. Mary would die before Charles and Charles did marry again, but Mary was the one who he truly loved.

Charles Brandon’s life was full of family, loyalty, and love. He had to navigate through the politics of the court and deal with men like Cromwell and Wolsey. Brandon had to stay loyal to Henry, even during the Great Matter with Catherine of Aragon and his relationship with Anne Boleyn. Tony Riches is able to portray Brandon’s life in such a way that shows him not just as the second husband of a former queen, but a loyal knight who did anything and everything for his family and his country. If you want a fantastic book about Charles Brandon and his fascinating life, I highly recommend “Brandon Tudor Knight” by Tony Riches.