A King Ensnared by J.R. Tomlin
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
The writing is decent (typos notwithstanding, and there really has to be a way for self-publishing writers to eliminate all the errors that drive readers crazy), and as far as I can tell, the research is well done. But.
Other reviewers have praised the absence of too much exposition. That’s grand, if you know the history. For those of us with no knowledge of this era, some exposition would have helped. But that’s nothing when compared to the confusion of characters.
At one point it occurred to me that Prince Hal and Henry of Monmouth might have been the same person. Briefly researching it, I see the appellation “Prince Hal” was used by the character Falstaff in Shakespeare’s Henry V written roughly 150 years later. Was the real Henry V ever called Prince Hal? That might be a fairly large contextual error, and I could live with it, considering all the Henrys that pepper the story. By all means, call him Prince Hal even if it doesn’t really happen for at least another century, but please be consistent.
Then there is James’ brother, starved to death in the dungeons of the Duke of Albany. First he’s Davey, then he’s Robert. “Davey can’t be dead.” And a few sentences later: “[T]he Duke of Albany ordered Lord Robert starved to death.” James had never “seen Davey after Albany took him prisoner.” He dreams of “Robert in an oubliette, desperately gnawing his fingers…” And I’m thinking, why the hell is Lord Robert called Davey? Then I look it up and see James had two brothers, Robert and David; Robert died in infancy and David died under suspicious circumstances while a detainee of Albany (who is also named Robert).
It’s not my fault I’m confused.
The Douglas family clearly had different factions with different loyalties, so just plunging us into the middle of it was bewildering. All the Richards and the Williams and the Davids and the Henrys and Lord This, Earl of That, Duke of Somewhere Else. Yes, I’m aware that is how the aristocracy works, but someone coming to this more or less cold needs at least a rudimentary primer. Still, the biggest consideration is characterization. Who are they, as people? What is their relationship to James? What do they want? Why do they want it?
Even without all this character-muddling, the story is not terribly compelling. I’m one-third in and there’s been nothing but moving James from one castle to another. I’m not sure I’ll finish it, even if I can figure out who all these people are.