England's Tower of London was the terrifying last stop for generations of English political prisoners. A Dangerous Inheritance weaves together the lives and fates of four of its youngest and most blameless: Lady Katherine Grey, Lady Jane's younger sister; Kate Plantagenet, an English princess who lived nearly a century before her; and Edward and Richard, the boy princes imprisoned by their ruthless uncle, Richard III, never to be heard from again. Across the years, these four young royals shared the same small rooms in their dark prison, as all four shared the unfortunate role of being perceived as threats to the reigning monarch.
As a big historical non-fiction fan, I was not only familiar with Alison Weir but also an avid reader of her work. So I was excited to see she was branching into YA historical fiction. But I was even more excited for two other reasons. Reason 1- one of the very first books to ever set me on my life long passion for historical non-fiction (especially about the European monarchy) was from one of the classic monthly scholastic classroom order forms- The Nine Days Queen by Karleen Bradford. Which was about Lady Jane Grey. Reason 2- I was really ready for a modern book to come along and inspire the same passion in a new generation.
I was a scholastic book fair/classroom order junkie, shocking, I know. My mom used to have to limit me. It seems to me she was very generous (for the time period, think the 80's guys, I. am. getting. OLD), and gave me a 20$ limit. However, even at scholastics uber fair prices (seems to me around 3$ each-ish), I always wanted more books than I could afford. Hmmm, apparently things have not changed much (looks sideways at irewards renewal form with how much I *saved* with irewards this past year, cringes to think that is roughly 10% of what I spent). Anyways, my point here, is obviously it was a good investment as I am 34, pregnant with my first child, and still own The Nine Days Queen, and find it still influences my interest in history.
One of my arguments with a friend, when we were in our twenties, was that history is full of adventure, shocking reveals and unbelievable truths. Granted historical characters are often shrouded in ludicrous libel, but digging through it and discovering the truths is fascinating. Like Catherine the Greats unbelievable rise to power, Marie Antoinette's ill-fated marriage, and Queen Elizabeth I's intriguing girl power reign, Lady Jane Grey's story is the type of history that seems too crazy to be true. To my delight, so too was the story of her sister Katherine Grey and Kate Plantagenet, throw in the endless mystery of the princes in the tower and Weir has managed to use some fantastic, lesser known history in her sweeping non-fiction saga. OK, not the princes, they are very well known, but you know, the other two.
The key to introducing anyone, young or old, to history and/or non-fiction is by making it interesting. I am constantly amazed by how boring people, be them teachers, writers or others, can make some of the most exciting events in history. The French Revolution was absolutely not boring. Did you know it gave Madame Tussaud, of wax fame, her start? Or that impoverished people wiped out an entire monarchy that had reigned for hundreds of years? Have you been to Versailles before? That's a LONG FREAKIN' walk from Paris yo. The guillotine is not boring, especially if you've ever seen one in action before. And yet, there are many people who can make the French Revolution the driest thing you have ever heard or read.
I'm guessing you can see where I'm taking this, in my cleverly discreet way, for your first foray you need someone who can excite your imagination and take you there. Someone who has the talent to point out the crazy non-sequitors and surreal tidbits and make it fascinating. Weir has done this. By interweaving two girls stories, many long years apart, she has shown not only their similarities but their differences. She's shown how their lives have set off a series of domino's that effect one another even though they lived over 130 years apart. But more than anything she has introduced new and old readers alike to some of the fascinating historical mysteries that drive people to read more, and for some, to research for years. Who wouldn't like to finally solve what exactly happened to the Princes in the tower?
A fantastic historical fiction novel for younger readers, A Dangerous Inheritance is sure to spur some history non-fiction fans like myself, if not some future history studies for others.
A Dangerous Inheritance, Alison Weir
Published by Doubleday, October 2012
My copy kindly provided by the publisher
My copy kindly provided by the publisher