An Involuntary King
Shield-Wall Books, Bothell WA, 629 pp. 2008
An Involuntary King is an odd book. I don't mean this in the least unkindly. By "odd", here, I mean that it doesn't fit easily into a category of books that many readers might be looking for. There is a reason for this: Ms. Hawthorne frankly admits that it was generated by stories she and her friends told to each other during their teen years. I remember doing this, mainly with science fiction, and the science fiction I tried to write was kind of "after the bomb" stuff. I suppose it wasn't bad, and, had I developed it further, it might even have sold as science fiction. There were several things against this, however, in my case. First, I didn't really get much encouragement for anything I wrote(my mother, for example, wanted me to write "pretty"), there were few women writing science fiction at that time, and last but not least, I went to college and got "into" other things.
Nan Hawthorne, on the other hand, retained an interest in her stories, and that was a good thing. But before I go any further, I should warn the Gentle Reader: This book is not for everyone. Many readers of historical fiction, especially the kind who insist on "total accuracy" will not like the book. Though it's set in a historical time and place, the names of the characters are recognizable as distinctly modern. Again, this was Ms. Hawthorne's choice, and in this context, it works. There are also a large number of readers who think that the concept of "alternative history" is way overdone. I'm one of them. However, this doesn't mean that I never read "alternative histories"; it just means that most of them are not very good, and in this regard, Ms. Hawthorne's book is a definite exception.
The book itself is set in eighth-century Anglo-Saxon England. In this period, there were local kingdoms and shires, etc., but there wasn't an "England", let alone a "Great Britain" as we understand that part of the world today. So while there never was -- as far as anybody knows, a "Crislicland", or an "Affynshire", politically, the kingdoms and shires were often fluid enough so there could have been such places. The story tells of a young man, Lawrence, who becomes king of Crislicland(which looks a lot like the northern part of Lincolnshire), due to the sudden death of his father. He is unprepared for this, and all sorts of complications, both emotional and political, ensue. This makes for a long, complicated, yet ultimately satisfying and believable story, and Nan Hawthorne has done an excellent job of putting all the complicated elements together in a way which should satisfy any reader who likes a good story, well-told, in any genre or hybrid of genres, that the storyteller chooses. This book will probably make "history purist" readers cringe, and those who prefer "straight history" probably should go elsewhere. But if you like a tale with lots of adventures, multilayered plots and plenty of action, An Involuntary King is the book for you. Ms. Hawthorne writes well, and it is an easy, and entertaining read. Another plus: though the book doesn't exactly take place in "real" time, it certainly has a flavor of Anglo-Saxon England, and, to her credit, it is obvious that Ms. Hawthorne did her research well. I should also add that she is writing a mystery series set in Anglo-Saxon Winchester, which I look forward to reading. Based on what she has done so far, I don't think I will be disappointed, and I don't think anyone who reads this book will be disappointed, either.