Friday, March 28, 2014

Book Review: A King Ensnared by J.R. Tomlin


On the dangerous stage of medieval Scotland, one man–in an English dungeon–stands between the Scots and anarchy.

Robert III, King of the Scots, is dead, and Scotland in 1406 is balanced on a knife’s edge. As he eyes the throne, King Robert’s ruthless half-brother, the Duke of Albany, has already murdered one prince and readies to kill young James Stewart, prince and heir to the crown.

James flees Scotland and his murderous uncle. Captured and imprisoned by the English, he grows to be a man of contradictions, a poet yet a knight, a dreamer yet fiercely driven. Hardened by his years in the Tower of London and haunted by his brother’s brutal murder, James is determined to find some way to recover his crown and end his uncle’s misrule. But the only way may be to betray Scotland and everything he believes in.

Createspace | November 2013 | 244 pages | ISBN-10: 1493786598

My Review

A King Ensnared, the latest release from J.R. Tomlin, is the first book in a planned series about Scottish King James I.   This opening novel chronicles James' life from his childhood in Scotland to his eighteen years as prisoner of English King Henry IV and then his son, King Henry V.

The novel begins in Scotland, where King Robert III's hold on power is tenuous.  After Robert's death, his son and heir James is forced to flee Scotland when it is revealed that his uncle, the powerful Duke of Albany, seeks to murder James and take the throne for himself.  Before reaching safety in France, however, James is taken prisoner by the English and sent to the Tower of London.  As the Duke of Albany solidifies his hold on Scotland, James spends his time in the Tower being tutored and practicing arms with other political prisoners.  Just prior to his death, King Henry IV presses his son, Henry of Monmouth, to release James.  While Henry agrees to his father's dying request, he ultimately decides not to release James unless the Scottish monarch agrees to certain conditions.  Not willing to compromise himself or his nation, James refuses Henry.   It soon becomes apparent to James, however, that if he ever hopes to win his freedom he may have no choice but to capitulate to Henry's demands. 

While I love to read about Scottish history, I confess that I knew next to nothing about James I or the period in which he lived prior to reading this novel.  It is obvious while reading through A King Ensnared that J.R. Tomlin did a significant amount of research for it.  As such, A King Ensnared provided me with some much needed insight into both Scottish and English history during the early 15th century.  Although I felt the early part of the novel moved slowly, once Henry V assumed the English throne and began to interact more frequently with James the story became more interesting.  While billed as a historical novel about Scotland, very little of the book actually takes place in Scotland given James spends the bulk of the story as a prisoner of the English.  As as result, much of the background history conveyed is actually English, albeit told from the perspective of a Scotsman.  Given the story is told from James' viewpoint, Henry V, who is often portrayed in a favourable light, doesn't come across quite so positively.   I enjoyed seeing Henry V through James' eyes but must admit that I found Henry V to be the more intriguing of the two characters.  Without giving away the ending, it is apparent that the next installment in the series will see James' return to Scotland, and I'm curious to see how he handles being back in his homeland.  

At a little over two hundred pages, A King Ensnared is a relatively quick read.   Readers interested in Scottish history, or the history of Scottish monarchs might want to check this one out. 

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy of the novel from the author as part of her virtual book tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.  

A King Ensnared is currently on tour.  Click here to check out the tour schedule.  


J. R. Tomlin is the author of five historical novels: A King Ensnared, Freedom’s Sword, A Kingdom’s Cost, Countenance of War, and Not for Glory. She has also co-authored several fantasies with C. R. Daems: Blood Duty, Talon of the Unnamed Goddess, The Shadow Ryana, The Shadow Gypsy, and Women of Power.

She has close ties with Scotland since her father was a native Scot, and she spent substantial time in Edinburgh whilst growing up. Her historical novels are set in Scotland. You can trace her love of that nation to the stories of the Bruce and the Good Sir James her grandmother read her when she was small and to her hillwalking through the Cairngorms where the granite hills have a gorgeous red glow under the setting sun. Later, her writing was influenced by the work of authors such as Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo and of G.R.R. Tolkien.

For more information visit J.R. Tomlin’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

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