When a friend drops a new and highly anticipated story on me with a request for a review, it’s a good day. Even though I attempt to be as fair as possible in such reviews, I’m not entirely certain I can claim to be unbiased at this point. For those keeping track (or need to), this is the sixth work in Samantha Wilcoxson’s Plantagenet Embers series, the third novella. Our friendship has developed alongside these stories, and my respect for her as an author has grown over the course of this series. It’s a win-win. That the series deals with characters and events so completely in my personal wheelhouse of interest is just icing on the cake.
Reginald Pole is a character that has appeared in this series before, as one of such prominence in the story would need. Through noble lineage, he might have been a prince of the realm. Through his works in the Church, he might have been pope. Politically and spiritually, his path was at odds with Henry VIII and almost seamlessly aligned with his daughter Mary, becoming a power behind the thrones of England and the Church of Rome. So close to center stage himself, he is integral to the tale, but sometimes rendered just out of focus, skimmed over by historian and novelist alike. His story is a testament to courage amidst political chaos and spiritual crisis.
As with the previous entries in this series, the story unfolds in the form of vignettes, ordered chronologically and presented almost introspectively; it’s a sort of character meditation, if you will, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The original mission of this series was to spotlight the women of the era who are otherwise glossed over or even vilified, to present them as fully-formed human beings with whom we might even relate. A focus on Reginald Pole is, ironically, a break with tradition in the very spirit of the Reformation. Those who were attracted to this series by its mission statement might see this as controversial. Others will find it a welcome expansion that opens up new potential while serving to strengthen those entries that have come before in the name of the unsung. Either way, it’s another mark of Samantha’s continued growth as an author to push her own boundaries of character exploration.
On a personal note, a point that caught me completely off guard (it shouldn’t have, but it did)… I recommended Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy to Samantha as Stone’s writing and style of characterization reminded me so much of her own. As if in answer, we now have a direct dialogue between those stories as Michelangelo has now stepped seamlessly from that book to this one. As it happens, the great artist’s social and political circles crossed with Reginald Pole, so his inclusion here was a natural fit. I have to admit to geeking out a bit as these two great minds talked shop in the Cappella Paolina.
Bottom line, this is a most worthy addition to the continuing Plantagenet Embers series. My humble thanks to Samantha for continuing to privilege me with the inside track on these stories as they develop and find their way out into the world.
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