Once, Jeffrey played the Fairy King in the marketplace, playacting to earn money for his starving family. But now, his father has sold him to the Duke of Buckingham, and Jeffrey will soon find that the 17th-century Stuart Court is much trickier.
Chase’s (Three Maids for a Crown, 2011, etc.) latest historical novel follows the fate of Jeffrey Hudson, a dwarf manipulated by Buckingham into spying on Queen Henrietta Maria. A French Catholic, the queen poses a threat to Buckingham’s influence over Protestant King Charles I. Of course, the court is percolating with secret motives and barely concealed ambitions. Buckingham’s own political machinations include an affair with the beautiful Countess of Carlisle. Before Jeffrey can begin his forced career in espionage, however, he must be trained, and Buckingham hands him off to Uriel Ware, a man with an intense hatred of Catholics, for lessons on etiquette, dancing, popular French phrases, horseback riding and the proper protocol for exiting a room. One wrong step—even a broken goblet—could spell Jeffrey’s death. Placed among the queen’s menagerie of freaks, which seethes with as much intrigue as does the noble court, Jeffrey finds both friends and enemies, including Will Evans, the friendly giant; Archie Armstrong, the king’s sly fool; and Dulcinea, the rope dancer whose astonishing beauty sets her apart in the menagerie and dooms her to a life of unrequited love. Jeffrey witnesses a pageantry of splendor and excess, majesty and corruption, love and betrayal. Yet his own affairs remain restricted to the bonds of family and friends. As tensions rise between Protestants and Catholics, Buckingham and Henrietta Maria vie for Charles’ allegiance, and Jeffrey soon finds his own loyalty challenged.
Rich in detail and brimming with intriguing characters, Chase’s novel will please fans of historical fiction, although the lack of romance may disappoint some.