Ikonopeiston's Reviews > The Seventh Son

The Seventh Son by Reay Tannahill
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Mar 05, 09

bookshelves: ricardian
Read in February, 2009

Review of Seventh Son

In a number of ways, this book is the antithesis of "The Sunne in Splendour." (Full disclosure: I loved "The Sunne in Splendour" and have read it six times so far. ) It is short, barely a third of the length of Penman's opus and sparing in details where Penman was generous. Overall, it takes a far less romantic look at Richard than most of the books published by the Ricardian side lately. The tone of the entire book is set on the third page when Richard's loves are said to be for hawking and for war. This is to be an exploration of a boy forged in the crucible of civil war and come to manhood during a time of danger for himself and his family.

In another context, I recently stated that no poem which included the words "the brave young king" could be taken seriously. All too many works produced by the soi-disant defenders of this most unjustly maligned monarch fall into the 'brave young king' category. They endow him with virtues more appropriate to their own times, never stopping to think that such a man would not have survived amidst the violence of the civil wars of the fifteenth century. Being the king's brother was not a position of safety during the medieval age.

Thus, it was refreshing to encounter the cynical and often sardonic tone of Tannahill's book. She states just the facts and leaves it to the reader to supply any embroidery required. I greatly appreciated that she left room for me to shape and develop my own idea of Richard and those who surrounded him.

The story as Tannahill tells it begins after the battle of Tewkesbury when Edward is secure on his throne and is trying to to make peace within his own family. Clarence is presented as the selfish, paranoid creature we have come to know and loathe and Richard is a firmly drawn fifteenth century man concerned with providing for his own personal and financial security and that of any projected progeny. He wants Ann for her property and to gain the trust of the men of the North. Only later does he come to love her (as much as he can love any other than Edward). In truth, everyone - including Edward - is viewed by this Richard as a potential enemy. He does not give his trust easily but when he does "Loyaultie me lie" is a valid guide to his character.

The young king, Edward V, is such an obnoxious and arrogant brat I was surprised he was allowed to live as long as he did. I was tempted to wring his neck several times and breathed a sigh of relief as he breathed his last. I thought the way in which Richard responded to the deaths of 'those tender babes' was thoroughly consistent with the man as Tannahill imagined him. She has not a shred of romanticism in her portrayal of her protagonist.

There were several points in the story which I found jarring. For one thing, I do not believe that only Ann and Francis Lovell loved Richard. There were at least two women who bore him bastard children. There must have been some affection there and the people of the North loved him as a good and true lord to them. Some of the great nobles who fought and died by his side at Bosworth were surely not only motivated by selfish goals. Yes, Richard was hard and, to a large degree, puritanical in his outlook but he was capable of inspiring deep and genuine devotion from those who saw him as a force for justice in his domain.

On a much less serious matter, there is the subject of eye colour. I am aware that the contemporary likenesses of the principals do not clearly show (or agree) on the colour of an individual's eyes but I do wish novelists would meet and come to some accord. Were Richard's eyes blue, grey or some sort of changeable shade in between? How about Edward? Vivid blue or brown/gold? And his supposed wife? Were Elizabeth Woodville's eyes brown, green or whatever? I am a gaze hound and this disagreement makes it hard for me to shape my pictures of the actors on the page.

All in all, I enjoyed this book very much. My sole complaint is that it read too fast and would probably have been confusing to a reader who was not up to the mark on the meaning of the various events and the order in which they occurred. Many of the episodes seem almost to be summaries of complex affairs and could do with a tad more padding. However, I particularly liked Tannahill's Richard. He is far closer to my notion of what he must have been like than any other fictional presentation. Perhaps I have read too much unadorned history lately and my tolerance for romanticism has suffered therefrom.
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Reading Progress

02/05/2009 page 93
21.53% "Wryly sardonic attitude. I like that."
02/05/2009 page 187
43.29% "Wry, sardonic attitude. I like that."
02/06/2009 page 283
65.51% "I must slow down."
02/07/2009 page 321
74.31% "Slooow down"
02/07/2009 page 321
74.31% "Sloooooow Down!"
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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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Misfit ROFL, are you trying to control yourself not to finish until we do? Or are you talking to yourself?


message 2: by Ikonopeiston (last edited Feb 08, 2009 06:02PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ikonopeiston I'm dragging my mental heels into the dirt as hard as I can. Right now I am taking a few days off to try to psych myself up to reading that last charge down Ambien Hill. I always want to tell him to wait for his artillery and his reinforcements or to get the hell out of there and kill the Tydder wretch another day. I still think he was at least partly suicidal. Anyway, I shall finish the book this week in spite of my reluctance. Bah!


Misfit I started it today and at 300 or so pages should be finished by this weekend at the latest.


Ikonopeiston It reads very quickly. Especially when you are familiar with the events and their order. I am thirsting to discuss it with the rest of you. Aaaargh!


Bibliophile They endow him with virtues more appropriate to their own times, never stopping to think that such a man would not have survived amidst the violence of the civil wars of the fifteenth century. Being the king's brother was not a position of safety during the medieval age.

Heh! I swear I hadn't read your review when I posted mine - because I thought exactly the same thing! This is the age (give or take bit) of Machiavelli's Prince; Lorenzo de' Medici was only three years older than Richard. These guys are not Romantic heroes; they're shrewd politicians and fine warriors and honestly, the amount of time Richard spends weeping in a lot of novels is a bit ridiculous!


Ikonopeiston And I had not read yours. Heh!

I questioned the weeping bit and Susan, our writer-in-residence and reference source, says that men at that time expressed emotion more openly than has been fashionable or late. Still, I do think many of the more soppy novelists try too hard to make him the 'verry partait gentil knight' and that seems to entail lots of handkerchiefs and (my particular irritant) lip-biting.

For heaven's sake, R3 was a man of his culture and times. He was probably better than most rulers - see his only Parliament and its rulings - and less inclined to debauchery than most but he was no plaster saint misunderstood by generations of philistines. I think we are gradually moving toward a more realistic appraisal of R3 and his legacy. BTW: do you think he offed the kids?

PS. Nothing will ever stop the Allison Weirs from slandering him or the Sandra Worths from canonizing him. Bah!


Bibliophile I questioned the weeping bit and Susan, our writer-in-residence and reference source, says that men at that time expressed emotion more openly than has been fashionable or late.

Heh! I guess that’s probably true, but I would have thought that those emotions would be more likely to be things like rage and less likely to be emo relationship-related crying :P (I’m totally caricaturing stuff, but this is actually a big beef of mine with historical novels because I study history – different period, and different country, but still – and I just think you have to be super-careful not to let your own anachronistic expectations of people’s behavior intrude on your writing… This was something I really enjoyed about The Seventh Son - I love that she showed Richard calculating the benefits to a marriage with Anne because that’s just what someone in his position would do!

Still, I do think many of the more soppy novelists try too hard to make him the 'verry parfait gentil knight' and that seems to entail lots of handkerchiefs and (my particular irritant) lip-biting.

HA! Yes, I think there should be a limit to how many times anyone gets to cry, or get their lower lip wibbly, or bite their lips in fiction. And once you reach that count, your character CANNOT DO THAT any more!

BTW: do you think he offed the kids?

No, I don’t, but that’s probably due to my baby-duckling-like imprinting on Josephine Tey’s version of Richard, not because I have carefully (or even slightly!) considered the historical evidence pro- and con.



Ikonopeiston Look under Discussions at the group home, expand the view and choose "To Cry, to Weep". That is where Susan set us all straight about the weeping warriors. You may enjoy the discussion.

In Royal Blood Bertram Fields who is a lawyer has applied his legal skills to evaluating the Case of the Missing Princes. He has a special distaste for Allison Weir and the resultant mix makes for a most entertaining read.

Let us start a movement to squeeze the excess moisture from the writing of the romanciers pretending to be novelists. Onward!


Brittany B. A really nice review.


Brittany B. I also believe Richard had some suicidal notion in the very end.

Though I certainly don't think he was saintly, I don't think he was a cold monster. My problem is an inability to forgive him for killing William Hastings and Anthony Woodville, especially the latter!


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