Last year, I took a course in Shakespeare. And Richard III quickly became one of my favorite historical figures. So when I saw that there was a whole book all about him – Dickon by Marjorie Bowen – I immediately requested it on NetGalley. Before I get into this review, let me just say that my impression of this book was colored by a few misconceptions I had going in. And that’s on me, but it definitely affected my enjoyment of this book. The first is that this book is nonfiction, which it most definitely is not. I was looking forward to a biography, and was honestly a bit disappointed in this case when I got a novel. Again, that’s totally my fault, but unfortunately, it did affect how I approached this book. The second misconception was that, being on NetGalley, this was a new release. It’s not. Dickon was first published in 1929. Which, again, is not that big of a deal, except that it didn’t match my expectations for this book. But I’ll get more into that later.
Dickon tells the story of The War of the Roses through the perspective of Richard Plantagenet, who becomes the Duke of Gloucester, and finally, King Richard III. After the tragic loss of his father and eldest brother, Richard and his brother Clarence flee to the Low Countries. But after the defeat of the Lancastrians, they return to England, where Clarence is crowned king and Richard trains as a night. But Richard soon learns that court is a web of intrigue and betrayal, and that he can trust no one. Not even his own brother.
If you’ve read Shakespeare’s play, you know how this ends. If not, I won’t spoil it for you. (And if you know you’re not going to read it, I recommend watching the Ian McKellen adaptation, because the story is really excellent.) As someone who loves studying the British monarchy, I am all about books like this one. Richard III is one of the most intriguing characters I’ve come across, and I just really enjoy reading about him. I liked the fact that this book began with Richard’s childhood, because you don’t get that from Shakespeare (understandable, since it is a play). I definitely got a lot more background information on Richard’s life, which added to the overall impression I have of him.
The one thing I didn’t exactly care for was the writing. And I think this is just a product of it’s time, which is why the publication date of the book threw me off a little bit. I was expecting something a bit more contemporary and readable, but the language in this book was just a bit convoluted. Imagine a 1920s attempt at 15th-century language. I should mention that I don’t think it was particularly inaccurate, it just wasn’t all that fun to read. I wish I’d been able to enjoy this book more, but the writing was just too much for me.
Overall, I think this is a case of reality not meeting expectation, which I do feel a bit bad about. I wish I’d done more research going into this book, because maybe then I would be able to appreciate more for what it is, because it is a pretty highly acclaimed historical novel for it’s time. It was actually pretty groundbreaking, historically-speaking, to write in a way that was sympathetic toward Richard III, because he’s not exactly the most moral character ever. And most people’s impressions of him – including mine – have been formed almost exclusively by Shakespeare’s play, which centers around Richard doing some pretty terrible things. So I do have to give Bowen props for that.
This book was provided to me by the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.