The Player King by Avi (review)
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Reviewed by
Avi The Player King. Atheneum, 2017 [208p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-4814-3768-4 $16.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-4814-3770-7 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 4-6

The jury is still out on the true identity of Lambert Simnel, the fifteenth-century claimant to the British throne, crowned in Dublin Cathedral and shortly thereafter defeated in battle by the forces of Henry VII. Whatever the merits of rival arguments, it’s a juicy tale upon which to construct a work of historical fiction, and Avi imbues fictionalized Lambert—an orphaned tavern boy who bore a convincing resemblance to the nephew of King Edward IV, and who was seized on by adults as a possible way to power—with the anonymity, intelligence, and ambition to convince readers that this is how it could have all gone down. The complex tale is deftly crafted for readers who care more about a rousing story than a history lesson, tossing them into the action without ever uttering “War of the Roses” and allowing them to pass over mind-numbing political minutiae by sharing Lambert’s initially dismissive perspective to the endeavor (he likes the food, he’s used to doing as he’s told, and to heck with the rest). High-stakes maneuvering between nobles is confined to its immediate impact on Lambert’s fate, and as the pretender begins to realize his vulnerability and his power, readers will find themselves sharing his instincts on whom to trust and why. An author’s note offers more information on Lambert’s post–Battle of Stoke Field life and the probable ends of other real-life players. With a bit of judicious booktalking, this may be a title to entice new readers to historical fiction and eventually lead fans onward and upward to Castor’s Tudor blockbuster, VIII (BCCB 9/13).

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