REVIEW: The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn
‘I want you to remember something, Nat. You’re small on the outside. But inside you’re as big as everyone else. You show people that and you won’t go far wrong in life.’
A compelling story perfect for fans of The Doll Factory, The Illumination of Ursula Flight and The Familiars.
My name is Nat Davy. Perhaps you’ve heard of me? There was a time when people up and down the land knew my name, though they only ever knew half the story.
The year of 1625, it was, when a single shilling changed my life. That shilling got me taken off to London, where they hid me in a pie, of all things, so I could be given as a gift to the new queen of England.
They called me the queen’s dwarf, but I was more than that. I was her friend, when she had no one else, and later on, when the people of England turned against their king, it was me who saved her life. When they turned the world upside down, I was there, right at the heart of it, and this is my story.
Inspired by a true story, and spanning two decades that changed England for ever, The Smallest Man is a heartwarming tale about being different, but not letting it hold you back. About being brave enough to take a chance, even if the odds aren’t good. And about how, when everything else is falling apart, true friendship holds people together.
Dear Ms. Quinn,
I love to read 17th century romance and historical books but they’re not the “era du jour” right now. This one caught my attention and despite the slightly longer length, I sat absorbed in it as I zipped through it. Nat is a great raconteur and the tale he tells grabbed me from the start.
At first we don’t know what Nat wants from the “faerie” who has been advertised at the country fair young Nat and his family hurry towards in 1625 rural England. Nat’s got something he wants – badly – but it takes a few pages before we know that his aim is to get the faerie to grant him a wish. Nat wants to be like all the other boys in the village and have his father be less ashamed of him. Nat is a dwarf and already his younger brother is much taller than he is.
The whole thing is a sham and to Nat’s horror, the man at the fair wants to buy Nat and exhibit him. To Nat’s mother’s horror, her husband agrees. Until a better offer comes along and Nat is on his way to London to be presented to the young, new Queen Henrietta Maria. What happens next covers decades, politics, and a civil war.
Nat Davy is based on the real life Jeffrey Hudson. After I’d done some research on Hudson, I desperately hoped that Nat’s life wouldn’t be too close to how poor Hudson’s life ended. The book is divided into three sections and honestly the first one was the best. It covers young Nat’s life in his home village of Oakham, how close he was to his brother, how much he loved his mother, and the upheavals to his world after his father sold him. Nat might be smaller than most boys but his desire to fit in, to be useful – because his father doesn’t keep things, people, or animals who aren’t – feel so heartfelt.
His introduction to court takes us into the heart of the early days of it when King Charles and his younger Queen were often quarreling. Just as Nat initially feels out of place and alone, Henrietta Maria is in a strange place and among people who aren’t kind to her. The two form a bond I can believe in even if Nat is the son of a butcher and she is a fille de France.
The second and third parts of the novel skip ahead to the war years which aren’t covered in too much detail as the story continues to focus on Nat and what he would have been involved with and seen. Since his place was by the Queen, her actions take center place rather than having battles detailed. Then comes a section that seems to drag. I do like the friendship shown in it and Nat gets himself out of a sticky situation by using his brains but it came off as more of a placeholder section in the long run.
There is also a romance that slogs endlessly along. Frankly, I got tired of it. S o s l o w. And while much of the historical detail is nicely done, there are a few anachronisms and the language makes no attempt to be even period-ish.
Nat’s early life with his family and his introduction to court – including his deep friendships with two other characters – was the highlight of the story for me. By the thirty first time he had talked himself out of believing that any woman would look at him romantically, I was huffing with frustration and rolling my eyes. Without that, the book would have been much stronger for me. B-/C+