August 5th, 2009

andrew potter

The King’s Tale by Rowena Sudbury

At first, reading the blurb of this story, you can think for it to be a fantasy tale: the king of a small realm who falls in love for a woodsman and makes him his consort... how else it could happen if not in a fantasy tale? But truth be told, if you pass upon this detail (not little, you are right), The King's Tale is all for all an old fashioned historical romance. The time and custom are well described and researched, and even the "trick" they use to be together is historically based: the handfasting ceremony was common among the medieval people in what is now England, two people, usually a man and a woman, forged a pact to be together for an year; if within the year they had a child, the pact would turn in a marriage, if not, they would have the change to come back to their family without any other string to bound them. The handfasting was a regular and recognized ceremony well before the institution of the modern christian marriage and for the hereditary law it was biding as well.

But shall we come back to the story. Christopher is the beloved son of a kingdom in the Cornish coast. The time is perhaps the late X century or the beginning of the XI; I don't believe it is after the Norman conquest, since the custom are more similar to the old Saxon legends. But truth be told there is a feudalism structure that resembles very much what was introduced by the Norman; and there is also a reference to a King Henry, who, from an historical point of view, could be linked to King Henry I, the son of William the Conqueror. I believe the author did an hard work to write an historically accurate novel allowing herself only some small freedom to make Christopher and Dafydd a possible match.

At the beginning of the story, Christopher is just became king, after the death of his father. Even if his father knew of his son's preferences for men, he told to his son that he had still to marry, to produce an heir to the kingdom. So Christopher is travelling the kingdom in search of a woman he can love, but obviously the quest is impossible. Christopher can't really love a woman. At the same time, Dafydd, the fourth son of a wealthy welshman, moved to Christopher's kingdom: as fourth in line he has nothing on his own, and his father prompted him to search his own path far from their land (maybe fearing for him to be an obstacle to his other sons). So Dafydd is leading a quite and comfortable life as woodsman, even if he is way more skilled than the task requires. On a snowy night, Christopher searches shelter in Dafydd's cottage and some days after in Dafydd's bed; when he asks to the man what he wants in exchange of his kindness, Dafydd replies that he wants a story of beauty, since he has seen few beauty in his life. And Christopher decides that he will tell to the man a tale of beauty AND love. He makes Dafydd his consort and brings him to live to the castle.

As I said, the chance for it to be real are few, but not impossible. Christopher's choice is not easy and not seen well by all his people. But he is the King, and what he wants he has. This is probably the best part of him and yet also the baddest: Christopher doesn't ask to Dafydd if he wants to be his consort, doesn't give him a choice; he brings the man to the castle and forces him upon his people. In doing so, he also puts the man at great risk, and what will happen it's in part due to his decision. If someone could think that Christopher is selfish and uncaring, I think instead that he is coherent to his character: he is a leader, he was raised to command and to have his wishes satisfied; he can be good and merciful, but only if he wishes, he has not to be. He may asks, but most of the time, he doesn't since he is not used to be refused.

A different man from Dafydd probably will have not bear such a man. But Dafydd is a gentle soul, he has not a selfish bone in him and he deeply loves Christopher. Even before the king's desire for him, he was already in love with him, a love he feeds from afar. He is also a strong man, both in body than in will, and only due to that love he can submit to Christopher's love, that is both love than ownership. Both Christopher than Dafydd know that it was Dafydd's choice to submit, and this is the reason why their relationship could last.

As I said I will tag the story as fantasy only since there are not clear references to a precise time period, but for all the rest, the story is pure historical. Even Christopher's decision to bear a bastard child he can then claim as an heir is the obvious decision that a man in his situation and time would have done. So, even if at first I didn't like the momentary interference of a woman between the two men, it was necessary as the only way to allow them to be together.

The King's Tale surprised me, since I was not expecting for it to be so "real", I opened it ready to read a fantasy tale, and instead I lost myself in an engrossing era, the Middle Ages, that I have always loved. I would also like to highlight the effort of the author to use a language that is right for that era, an expedient that maybe at first could make it difficult for a common reader to start the book, but that in the end, it has a main role in allowing that "lost in the tale" feeling that I mentioned above.

Amazon: The King's Tale

Amazon Kindle: The King's Tale

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