N. Gemini Sasson
I still remember the drive home after seeing the movie Braveheart in 1995. My husband asked me a question and I mumbled a reply as I gazed out the passenger’s side window. That was my way of letting him know I wasn’t in the mood for conversation. I wasn’t mad or tired. I just needed to think. Seeing that movie had stirred something deep inside me, something I needed to understand, but couldn’t quite grasp. A few days later we went out of town and during those highway miles I kept thinking, “I want to write something epic like that. A story that will make people remember the past and where we’ve come from. A book they’ll talk about for a long time.” It truly was a life-changing event for me.
As a teenager, I escaped from my turbid years of angst through books. My favorites were Ivanhoe and The Three Musketeers—and the only reason I picked up the latter book was because of the 1973 movie by that name starring Michael York and Richard Chamberlain. I had a thing for men with swords, apparently. Like anyone, I love a good story, but what really fascinated me were stories that took place in the past. Everything was just so different: the clothes, the food, the living conditions and daily life. Some ancestral memory must have been beckoning me back there, begging me to retell the past and keep its memory alive, I’m certain. After all, I am mostly Scottish on my mother’s mother’s side and have just started researching my ancestry. Turns out, there weren’t any Wallaces in my family tree, but there were Bruces. Hmm…
Braveheart left so many loose ends unanswered for me. My curiosity led me to pick up one history book after another. What I found out was that although the movie was very true to William Wallace’s spirit and his influence, there were a few instances where the writer, Randall Wallace, favored storytelling over historical fact. In the movie, William Wallace meets with Isabella of France for a romantic tryst; in reality, Wallace and Isabella never met. In fact, she was only about eight years old when he died in 1304 and she didn’t even come to England until after her marriage to Edward II in 1308. (Yes, she was only twelve, but marrying young to form alliances was common in medieval times.) By then, Edward I had been dead a year and his son had assumed the throne.
Still, I’ve watched the movie at least a dozen times and that romantic subplot to the story—between Wallace and Isabella—made it all the more intriguing to me. It added poignancy. Wallace’s grief was briefly assuaged by this beautiful woman who clandestinely betrayed her powerful father-in-law to offer help to the Scottish rebel (in the movie, I mean).
Now before you start blowing the whistle to call out the Accuracy Police, think of it in a different light. I had never even heard of William Wallace before seeing that movie. Robert the Bruce, to me, was a blip in an encyclopedia entry. I knew nothing about the Scottish War for Independence or the debates over the line of inheritance which had left open the door for Edward I of England (Longshanks) to assert himself there. And you know what? It drove me to learn more about that particular time period and even to explore my own geneology. I’m sure I’m not the only person in the world whose interest in history has been piqued by a movie or novel.
In real life, history has gaps, it is more complex than what can be conveyed in a 2 hour film or a 400 page book, and sometimes it’s even boring. Ah yes, now when I say ‘history’ it harkens back to high school History class, where you’d spit back names and dates with no real concept of the trials of the human spirit or connection to the people who took part. It almost seems politically incorrect to say it, but history, when fictionalized in books and movies, has the power to move people emotionally, far more than a factually dry history book. Both fiction and non-fiction are important to our understanding of history.
So if I know the truth to actual events, then why am I so forgiving that a Hollywood scriptwriter took such liberties? Why am I such a defender of movies like Braveheart? Because they can ignite an interest in the past and highlight the common human experiences that connect us throughout the ages.
My thoughts on The King Must Die:
I'm going to refer back to Gemini's terrific guest post in this review. I too was struck by the film, Braveheart. It is my favorite film and probably always will be. And, as Gemini also felt, it was this film that led to my obsession and further investigation into the personages portrayed in the movie. I immediately did a lot of non-fiction reading on William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. In addition, I was very curious about Edward I (Longshanks), Edward II, and Isabella and so, did more reading on them as well. Since then, I have been intrigued to read historical fiction that features these people who held such interest for me. The King Must Die is one of those books.
I've said this before and I'll say it again. Good historical fiction, whether completely accurate or not, will (should) invoke such passion in the reader that he/she can't help but go off on a quest for more information on the subject matter and/or the historical figures depicted there. Whether this quest comes in the form of reading more historical fiction portrayals of the subject, as to get different points of view, or taking it a step (or two) further and devouring every non-fiction source a person can get their hands on, for it to occur at all is a bow to the genre. Gemini has made her characters so real and interesting, I certainly can't help but want to read more about them. Especially in the case of Edward III. I found him so interesting as he grew from a 14 year old boy into a king, husband, and father. I also like that she explored a different avenue than the portrayal of Isabelle as an evil witch who wanted her husband dead. Another great aspect of historical fiction novels is to read the differing points of view of the authors who write them.
I recommend The King Must Die to all lovers of historical fiction. It is written by an author who is clearly passionate about her subject matter and it shines through in every word on the page. I look forward to reading her future (and past) works.
Note: Be sure to read the excellent author's note at the end of the book which sheds some light on the historical facts behind the story.
About the book:What is done cannot be undone.
England, 1326. Edward II has been dethroned. Queen Isabella and her lover, Sir Roger Mortimer, are at the pinnacle of their power.
Fated to rule, Isabella’s son becomes King Edward III at the callow age of fourteen. Young Edward, however, must bide his time as the loyal son until he can break the shackles of his minority and dissolve the regency council which dictates his every action.
When the former king is found mysteriously dead in his cell, the truth becomes obscured and Isabella can no longer trust her own memory . . . or confide in those closest to her. Meanwhile, she struggles to keep her beloved Mortimer at her side and gain yet another crown—France’s—for the son who no longer trusts her.
Amidst a maelstrom of shifting loyalties, accusations of murder propel England to the brink of civil war.
In the sequel to Isabeau, secrecy and treason, conspiracy and revenge once again overtake England. The future rests in the hands of a mother and son whose bonds have reached a breaking point.
Edward III – Stanhope Park, July, 1327
Edward III – Stanhope Park, July, 1327
Praying it was only a nightmare, I slapped at my cheeks to bring a rush of blood to my hazy head.
Hooves clattered. More shouts. Then ... sword clanged against sword, struck flesh. Chaos. The cries of the wounded.
My heart clogged my throat. The realization struck me with the deadly force of one of Sir John’s cannons: we were under attack. Swallowing hard, I groped in the darkness for my sword. Frantic, I flailed my hand in a wider circle, my palm swatting at a mat of crushed grass. Then, my fingers smacked against my shield. My bones screamed in pain. Great, burning throbs. I pulled my hand to my chest and tried to move my fingers, but couldn’t.
The sounds were coming closer, growing louder.
“Kyrie, eleison,” I chanted. “Kyrie, eleison. Kyrie —”
A dull glint caught my eye. I flexed aching fingers, wrapped them around the hilt and pulled my sword to me. Then I grabbed at the edge of my shield, dragging it over a crumpled shirt, and slipped my left arm through the loosened straps. No time to pull them tight. Rolling over onto my knees, I scooted around the center pole toward the opening. My blade clunked against metal—my helmet. Tucking my sword on my lap, I reached out, grasped it, and settled it snugly onto my head.
The shrill neigh of a horse ripped through the night air. Hooves crashed to a halt just outside the opening of my tent. I froze.
About the author:
N. Gemini Sasson is also the author of The Crown in the Heather (The Bruce Trilogy: Book I), Worth Dying For (The Bruce Trilogy: Book II), The Honor Due a King (The Bruce Trilogy: Book III) and Isabeau, A Novel of Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer (2011 IPPY Silver Medalist for Historical Fiction). She holds a M.S. in Biology from Wright State University where she ran cross country on athletic scholarship. She has worked as an aquatic toxicologist, an environmental engineer, a teacher and a track and cross country coach. A longtime breeder and judge of Australian Shepherds, her articles on bobtail genetics have been translated into seven languages.
Web site: http://www.ngeminisasson.com
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