Published by Simon & Schuster
Available in ebook, audiobook, hardcover (7 January 2021) | paperback (22 July 2021)
Source: Copy received from publisher for review
ABOUT THE BOOK
‘I want you to remember something, Nat. You’re small on the outside. But inside you’re as big as everyone else. You show people that and you won’t go far wrong in life.’
A compelling story perfect for fans of The Doll Factory, The Illumination of Ursula Flight and The Familiars.
My name is Nat Davy. Perhaps you’ve heard of me? There was a time when people up and down the land knew my name, though they only ever knew half the story.
The year of 1625, it was, when a single shilling changed my life. That shilling got me taken off to London, where they hid me in a pie, of all things, so I could be given as a gift to the new queen of England.
They called me the queen’s dwarf, but I was more than that. I was her friend, when she had no one else, and later on, when the people of England turned against their king, it was me who saved her life. When they turned the world upside down, I was there, right at the heart of it, and this is my story.
Inspired by a true story, and spanning two decades that changed England for ever, The Smallest Man is a heartwarming tale about being different, but not letting it hold you back. About being brave enough to take a chance, even if the odds aren’t good. And about how, when everything else is falling apart, true friendship holds people together.
My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the invitation and to the publisher for the review copy. This story appealed to me as soon as I saw it on Twitter and I was delighted to have the chance to read an early copy.
Spanning the decades and told by Nat, it begins with 10 year old Nathanial Davy and his family attending a fair in the Rutland town of Oakham. He was used to being stared at and regarded as an oddity because of his unusually small size. But he thought that he would grow however it was that night at the fair that he discovered that he never would.
Nat’s family was poor and his father was a bully. Nat was no use to him so his fate would have been to end up being part of a freak show. Luckily for Nat, an extra shilling in his father’s hand changed his fortune and instead he was sold to the Duke of Buckingham to be given as a gift to the new Queen. To be dressed in beautiful clothes, to entertain her and to be by her side.
As a child Nat was enchanting. His loneliness in a strange London world – he especially missed his mother and his brother Sam, matched that of Queen Henrietta Maria; she wasn’t much older than Nat at only 15 years old and away from her family in France having been married off to the much older King Charles. Although from such different backgrounds, the two found they had much in common and Nat’s gift for empathy with the Queen earned him her loyalty and friendship.
Nat Davy is inspired by a real life character – that of Jeffrey Hudson, court dwarf to the Queen. Nat’s story may be a fictional one but it’s a wonderfully written story of courage, devotion and bravery with a smattering of stubbornness.
I love history but there was a lot of the detail about this period of the English civil war, with the conflict and battles between Parliament and the King that I didn’t know and I actually learnt so much. This may be fiction but the story was rich with detail and characters and events were so vividly described that I was completely entranced.
There was so much to like about this book – Nat of course was a standout character. As he grew in age (but sadly not in size) he realised that some things that other people took for granted were to be denied him, like love. At times my heart broke for him, whether he was standing up to the bullies who tormented him or longing for what was missing in his life. There was a romantic angle to the story which, if I’m honest did frustrate me a little, but it in no way detracted from my enjoyment.
There were some fabulous characters surrounding him too – Jeremiah, the giant of a man who took Nat under his wing, Nat’s friend Henry Jermyn whose dry humour with Nat I particularly enjoyed and even the Queen whose transition from that of a lonely young girl to a young woman capable of organising an army and doing what she could to help her (rather foolish) husband was superbly portrayed.
I loved The Smallest Man, I was so completely drawn in to the wonderful storytelling and Nat’s determination to be accepted for what he was and what he was capable of rather than how he looked. It is without doubt one of my favourite books of the year.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Frances Quinn read English at King’s College, Cambridge, and is a journalist and copywriter. She has written for magazines including Prima, Good Housekeeping, She, Woman’s Weekly and Ideal Home. She lives in Brighton with her husband and who Tonkinese cats. The Smallest Man is her first novel. Follow her on Twitter @franquinn