Set in an imaginary past in which kings, queens, castles and armies were still very much pervasive, Pamela Taylor’s MY FATHER, MY KING tells the story of a royal dynasty running into trouble as inherited status starts to fail its main protagonists.
After the passing of the king, we’re told the story of the royal household and their council from the perspective of Alfred, a younger son who’s unlikely to rise to the throne. The king is killed when he’s attacked in a case of mistaken identity on an anonymous trip abroad. He’s left behind his much younger, pregnant wife, and the kingdom must await the birth of her child to determine the correct order of secession. In the meantime, she’s in charge, inexperienced and vulnerable. Worse could be round the corner, however. If the child is a girl, the leadership will pass to Alfred’s older brother, John.
Alfred is a sucker for royal decorum, a careful and considered man prepared to do his duty at all costs. He’s served on the council and learnt the ways of the family, and their tradition. John, in stark contrast, is a drunk, liable to be temperamental about his roles and responsibilities. Having traveled to a neighboring kingdom, he’s married a young girl who doesn’t speak any of the local language. She’ll be under strict chaperone for their early marriage. No one knows her motives, or even what type of person she’ll prove to be.
Meanwhile, there’s trouble on the borders, with the neighbors–from the royal perspective, a rule-less and difficult mob–becoming increasingly difficult as the story progresses, not least due to some missteps from our host family. Another facet of the story if Alfred’s deep love for his wife, a relationship that strikes as unusually modern in the setting of the book in general, but reflects the man himself well.
Told entirely from Alfred’s perspective, MY FATHER, MY KING is something of a meandering text, a tale that sometimes lacks a deeper context, simply because things are slowly unwound through only Alfred’s eyes. Not every action is unfolding before the reader, so the peripheral visions can feel a little empty.
All in, MY FATHER, MY KING would definitely be of interest to anyone with a love of medieval style history and its guts and glory, hard-hitting challenges and regal approach to life. Like at the time, characters outside of the royal arch are rendered almost irrelevant, and the sparks rise very much from the personal internal interactions. It’s not a fast-paced, modern novel in the sense to which we’ve become used to, but an atmospheric plodder. The meandering pace and single-person perspective, however, enchants with its winding nature, and feels transportative, if not quite consistently compelling.
An intriguing fictional take on an ancient ruling family, and its traditions, MY FATHER, MY KING is ultimately a little lacking in cut and thrust, but carries with it plenty of enchanting detail and insight into the challenges of life in a totally different era, from diplomacy to love.
~James Hendicott for IndieReader