Friday, May 13, 2022

Daughter of the White Rose, by Diane Zahler

The story of a twelve year-old butcher's daughter in late 15th century England ought to be pretty spare, since the reality of life for children (and girls in particular) would have been harsh and short.  However, this is the 21st century and so the setting provides a colorful background for an adventure instead.  

Nell was born at the same time as the Queen's son and, by virtue of the friendship between her father and the royal family, Nell and "Ned" (as she calls the Prince of Wales) have always been close.  She frequently  passes days in the royal nursery playing with Ned and his sisters,  the princesses royal.  And when the Queen and Nell's mother are again concurrently pregnant, their sons are born at close to the same time and become playmates as well.

In this idyllic environ, Nell sometimes fantasizes about marrying Ned, even though she knows it is not possible.  That doesn't stop her from practicing her reading and writing skills by confiding such thoughts in her journal. 

Such wishes get put aside as events overtake the children.  Following the death of the King, his brother Richard (the Third) imprisons Ned and his brother and usurps the throne.  By request of the deposed Queen, Nell and her brother are sent to the Tower to keep the princes company and await their fate.  Nell is not willing to sit and wait.  When an opportunity arises, she takes it and sets out to effect an escape.

Very loosely based around historical events, but with frequent anachronisms and modern sensibilities, this is a story that works better as fictional adventure than historical novel.  I liked the story and I loved Nell's character, but I was endlessly distracted by the inaccuracies.  Perhaps the biggest howler for me was not historical but practical: in one scene, a printer laments that he must reprint a single copy of an entire book in a single afternoon on his printing press (as if it was some sort of laser printer and not a device where each page would need to be manually set)!  It really would have been better to dispense with the pretense of historical basis and simply make this a fantasy story, for which our strong heroine would have been perfect.

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