The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publishing Date: 7th January 2021
Source: Received from the publisher, thank you!
Number of pages: 384
Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction
‘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.
„The Smallest Man“ is set in 1600’s England and follows the life of Nat Davey, a 10 – year – old boy who’s life is about to turn very special. Nat, you know, is small, yet he didn’t stopped dreaming of growing and being like a normal boy. However, he soon realises that it’s not possible and he starts to feel useless. His father also realises that and decides to sell Nat – to the highest bidder, as it turns out, despite Nat’s mother’s pleas and protests. Blessing in disguise, he finds himself in London, being a gift to Queen of England. Knowing better, Nat decides to do the best with his new life and slowly starts to form a friendship with the Queen, who is as lonely and misunderstood as Nat is. But times are turbulent and there is the threat of the civil war, as King’s politics are tearing the country apart. Where is Nat’s journey going to throw him? To the enemy’s territory or maybe it’s going to spare him?
Googling the painting the author talks about in her book made the whole reading experience even much more real and poignant. The look on Nat’s face (he’s going to stay Nat for me, sorry!) will stay with me for ever and it was that moment when I really relized, oh my, you were real. Nat, you see, was inspired by a real character – Jeffrey Hudson, court dwarf to Queen Henrietta Maria and there are two kinds of books telling us fictional stories about real characters – those that either absolutely pull it off or those that absolutely misfire. „The Smallest Man“ belongs to the first category where the author beautifully and in a very captivating way brought him back to life, telling a story filled with courage, sadness, bravery and hope. As there are not many information about Jeffrey Hudson, Nat is a work of fiction but I think Frances Quinn couldn’t create a better character.
The first part of the book, telling us the young Nat’s story, was, in my opinion, much better than the two other parts that focused more on him growing up and him falling in love. They were also brilliant, don’t get me wrong, and I simply adored the whole book, but somehow the author has so beautifully captured his younger years, it talked to me on many more levels and was, for me at least, much more interesting. Because Nat’s years as a child were so poignant and beautifully written. Seeing him realise that things that we normally take for granted are so often unavailable for him made my heart break but then he un – broke my heart again with taking life and matters in his hands and achieving this what seemed impossible. Seeing him standing up to bullies, seeing how honourable he was made me feel so proud for him. Also, Nat discovering that he is valued as a person was the most fantastic subplot of this story.
The book was wonderfully researched, filled with many details about the times it was set in. The author has brought the times to life again, describing the period of the English civil war, the conflict between Parliament and the King and it was a huge joy to read it. It was very vividly described and rich in details, especially the second half of the book that focused so strong on the civil war and Nat accompanying the Queen trying to obtain money, soldiers and equipment for the King.
But the book is not only Nat because the other characters had made the story living and breathing as well. They were fabulous, and no matter how background they were, they all had their own perosnalities and distinctive voices.
Starting this book I was prepared for it to be written in the language of 17th century but here I was for a little and nice surprise. The language used was rather modern , however it worked brilliantly and made the story even more readable. The writing style is refreshing, quick, captivating and sublime. The pace is so right, the story flows and – be warned – it’s not easy to put the book down. The author seamlessly merged facts with fiction and it’s really hard to forget that hugely it’s historical fiction.
I loved this book. I loved Nat and his determination to be accepted for what he was, for the way he was – stubborn, passionate and wise, for the fact that he was much more than just Queen’s dwarf and that he himself realised this – being clever and intelligent he quickly learnt things and soon realised the mind games of politics at the Royal Court. But I also adored Queen for seeing him as much more than only her dwarf and for giving him a chance, for listening to him. Yes, they both profited from each other’s company but I had a feeling that this also a real, genuine friendship between them, and respect. He was so pure, genuine and honest, our Nat, and really, whatever you do, let him enter your life, he’s going to leave a mark in your heart and you won’t be able to forget him. His narration and perspective are clear and strong like a church bell and it’s so easy to find yourself mesmerised, there is simply some kind of magic in his words.
This book was a perfect mix of historical fiction and authentic events and characters who jumps off the pages, taking you on a brilliant journey through the times and letting you into their lives. It was a story with difference, showing what’s really important – friendship, loyalty, staying true to yourself and looking beneath the surface. It’s about strength and bravery, about taking chances. I loved this book, I loved Nat and characters surrounding him. It’s an unforgettable book that will stay with me for long – my first read in 2021 and already one of the best I have ever read!