QAB Book Review: “The Queen’s Dwarf”, by Ella March Chase
Henrietta Marie, Queen of England, was the daughter of King Henri IV of France and was the consort of the tragic King Charles I. The marriage was arranged on the condition that English Roman Catholics were relieved from the implementation of the penal laws for practice of their faith. In a realm where the Church of England reigned supreme and where Puritanism was a growing faith of choice, this dictate was highly unpopular with Parliament and the English people. It was in this climate that Queen Henrietta Marie made her way to England at age 16. Although most people familiar with English history recall the devotion that King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Marie held for one another during the dark days of the English Civil War, their early years of marriage were very difficult. The promise to curtail penal laws targeting Roman Catholics was broken, and Queen Henrietta Marie was left isolated in a land where her pious adherence to her faith was damning, and her popularity with the nobility and the common people was poor. To function within this culture of hate, the Queen surrounded herself with maids from her homeland, and entertained herself with grand masques and shows performed by her “menagerie of freaks”, which included three “little people”, a giant, and other people of unique physical characteristics or talents.
The Queen’s Dwarf, exquisitely written by Ella March Chase, tells the fascinating story of an exceptionally remarkable man, Sir Jeffrey Hudson. Born a dwarf, Hudson, through a series of partially fictional and partially known historically accurate events, joins Queen Henrietta’s “menagerie of freaks”. The novel takes us on his early life’s journey, and vividly captures the reader’s interest and imagination. In doing so, Ella March Chase takes a huge risk. She writes this novel in the first person, narrated by Sir Jeffery Hudson himself, and she does so brilliantly. Whether she is naturally intuitive or interviewed people with dwarfism, I do now know. What I saw plainly though, was writing so sensitively constructed, that the value and human dignity of this man, as well as the other “freaks of nature” portrayed, was always forefront. I was touched to tears on several occasions by the beauty of her prose, as at times I was brought truly into the body and soul of this man, living his life challenges and continual degradation. Make no mistake, though. This novel is not a “pity party” by any means. Sir Jeffery Hudson has courage and strength of character, is intellectually gifted, and has survivor skills rivaling any historical figure in world history. He has the emotions, drive, and the commitment to excellence of many great men, and Ella March Chase eloquently illustrates this through an excellent plot that is as exciting as it is humanly sensitive.
Beyond the attributes aforementioned, Ella March Chase does an outstanding job with character development, which is a formidable task when several of the characters are people with highly unique major life challenges. Plot development blends a balance of historically known fact and fictionalized action that is plausible given the known attributes, opinions and decision making of the major historical figures highlighted. I was particularly impressed with how Queen Henrietta Marie was crafted. Through the plot the reader sees the subtle complexities of this woman, her isolation, her initial naiveté and misguided strength of purpose so common of teenagers, and the gradual maturity that comes through her life experiences. Striking also are the relationships of this work, particularly the loving rapport that develops between Sir Jeffrey and the Queen and the staunch friendship that develops between Sir Jeffery and the Queen’s giant Welsh porter, William Evans.
In a contemporary literary world that far too frequently paints people of difference as evil, such as the portrayal of the character Silas, a man with albinism in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, Ella March Chase looks to 17th century history and crafts a story that teaches us the value of human dignity, warts and all.
Ella March Chase is an historical fiction writer from East Moline, Illinois. Ella traveled to England where she fell under the spell of the Tower of London—the infamous Traitor’s Gate, the chapel where beheaded queens lay buried, the story of the two princes allegedly murdered by Richard III. Ella began unearthing the obscure historical details that make larger than life figures painfully human. From that fascination, the concepts for The Queen’s Dwarf, The Virgin Queen’s Daughter, and Three Maids for a Crown emerged. For more information about Ella March Chase, visit her website at http://www.ellamarchchase.com.
The Queen’s Dwarf releases January 21st in the United States. To Purchase, click the link below!