Atheneum/Simon & Shuster, Oct. 2017
Orphan Lambert Simnel enjoys nothing more than escaping from his life of drudgery in a low-brow inn deep in the heart of medieval London to get some fresh air. One day, while sent out on an errand, he stops to observe some actors, enjoys the performance, and finds himself utilizing the same skills as he gets whisked away by a mysterious friar. The friar purchases him from the innkeeper, washes him for the first time ever, and begins to train him to be a gentleman. It turns out that Lambert resembles the Earl of Warwick, next in line to succeed the rightful King of England. The real Earl of Warwick is locked up in the tower of London, where King Henry placed him after overthrowing the crown. Now, King Henry's enemies want to regain their lost power and training Lambert to pose as the heir to the throne will help them achieve their ambitious goals. Lambert is a fast learner and before long he finds himself journeying to Ireland, where he is coronated, gathers an army, and proceeds to march into England. His noble friends have assured him that more soldiers will join the troops once they arrive, except no soldiers come. Instead, Lambert gets a sinking feeling that the "jig is up" and it won't be as easy to overthrow King Henry as he was led to believe. A fierce battle scene ends the novel with Lambert's fate hanging in the balance. What will King Henry do to the Player King once he gets his hands on him?
Avi is one of the most prolific writers for young people in our time. He especially excels at writing well-researched and exciting historical fiction for children. Avi returns to the medieval world of his Newbery winning Crispen and the Cross of Lead, although this time focusing on real world events. As written in the Author's Note at the end of the story, Lambert Simnel was a real person and this story is based on actual events. This alone should draw in readers and the exciting plot should keep them hooked. Every short chapter ends with a cliff-hanger to keep readers turning pages. The book is rather short, the print is a decent size, and the margins are big, as to not intimidate readers. The first person voice is written a bit "authentically", which may put off some kids, but will help others get into the time period. There are not enough books set in the middle ages, so I am grateful for the subject matter. I am also grateful that the book is geared towards boys and is exciting enough to make it an easy sell to this tricky audience. I loved learning about this little-known chapter of British history and did a google search to find out a bit more. Lambert is a great character and kids will relate to his reluctance to leave home, no matter how dysfunctional it is, and then experience his desire for power, only to find himself humbled again. Who wouldn't want to be the sovereign of England in the days of absolute power? A fun tale of history, adventure, mistaken identity, and greed gone wrong.