#BookReview The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn @SimonSchusterUK

The Smallest Man PBAbout the Book

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.

In 1625, they gave me as a gift to the new queen of England, and 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.

Format: Paperback (376 pages)    Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 22nd July 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

Although inspired by the true story of Jeffrey Hudson, court dwarf to Queen Henrietta Maria, in her author’s note Frances Quinn emphasises that The Smallest Man is ‘a novel, not a fictionalized biography’ and that Nat Davy is a ‘figment of her imagination’. Oh, but what a wonderful figment of the imagination he is!

I defy anyone not to be moved by young Nat’s gradual realisation that he’s not like other boys, his attempts to make himself taller, or his desire to prove he can be just as useful on the family farm as his brother Sam. The revelation that, to certain members of his family, his only value is as a ‘freak’ is heart-breaking to witness.

Although in hindsight a lucky break, initially Nat’s time at Court sees him viewed merely as a plaything, just one more item of curiosity in a trophy cabinet, and a pawn in the power play between the Duke of Buckingham, Queen Henrietta Maria and King Charles. However, Nat’s keen intelligence means he’s soon alert to the politics, hypocrisy and hidden agenda that proliferate in the Royal Court. I loved seeing his empathy for the lonely and isolated Queen and his attempts to help counter those trying to weaken her influence on the King. And I’m sure I can’t be the only reader who was cheering Nat on as he takes steps, with the help of his friend Jeremiah, to face down the bullies who torment him.

Those who love to immerse themselves in the detail of historical events will particularly enjoy part two of the book in which Nat witnesses first-hand the ravages of the civil war and accompanies the Queen in her desperate attempts to obtain men and arms for the King’s cause. Along the way, Nat discovers that he is valued as a person, not just a plaything, and he is even able to use his stature to advantage.

In the final part of the book, as the reign of King Charles comes to its bloodthirsty end, the bonds of friendship are tested but emerge strengthened and the author gives Nat the possibility of a life he had always dismissed as a hopeless dream.

If you’ll forgive the frivolity, the wise advice his mother gives the young Nat – “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” – brought to mind the song from the 1952 film Hans Christian Andersen, starring Danny Kaye.

🎶Thumbelina, Thumbelina tiny little thing
Thumbelina dance, Thumbelina sing
Thumbelina what’s the difference if you’re very small?
When your heart is full of love you’re nine feet tall 🎶

(I apologise to those of a certain age who now won’t be able to get that tune out of their head for the rest of the day.)  On a more serious note, you can find an image of the painting by Van Dyck that features in the book here.

For me, the best historical fiction combines authentic period detail, a compelling story and characters who leap off the page, letting you experience life in earlier times through their eyes. The Smallest Man delivered on all those fronts as far as I was concerned. It’s a story about appreciating the loneliness of those regarded as ‘different’, treasuring the gift of friendship and looking beneath what is on the surface. Lessons that stand the test of time I think.

In three words: Engaging, tender, assured

Try something similar: The Honey and the Sting by E. C. Fremantle

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Frances Quinn Author picAbout the Author

Frances Quinn read English at King’s College, Cambridge, and is a journalist and copywriter. She has written for magazines including Prima, Good Housekeeping, She, Woman’s Weekly and Ideal Home. She lives in Brighton with her husband and two Tonkinese cats. The Smallest Man is her first novel.

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