Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Berlie Doherty
Historical Fiction
For ages 12 and up
Andersen Press, 2012   ISBN: 978-1849391214

Two hundred years ago, Walter Montague was favored by King Edward the second and was close to England’s monarch for a time. Then he lost that favor and was sent away from court in disgrace. Since then, the Montagues have lived quietly in the country in their family house and for the most part they have been happy. Now in 1539, William Montague, his brother Matthew, their sister Margery, their father Robert and their servants live in Montague Hall. Even though his wife died some years ago, Robert is content with his life, and hopeful about the future. He lives modestly, not wanting to attract any attention. Robert believes that the Pope in Rome is the head of the Catholic Church, which is a dangerous opinion to have because King Henry VIII insists that all his subjects accept that he is the head of the church in England. Anyone who disagrees with him is arrested and executed.

   One day Will’s happy life at Montague Hall comes to an abrupt end. He and his bother are running on a beach when they are overtaken by the tide. Robert is able to save his younger son, but his heir, Matthew, drowns. His heart broken, Robert decides to leave the hall, taking a job in London working for his brother-in-law, Lord Carew. Robert’s sister, Elizabeth Carew, comes to the hall and takes his children in hand. Firmly and ruthlessly she gets them ready for their future lives. Will is groomed to be a page in King Henry’s court, and Margery is prepared to be married off.

   When his aunt feels that Will is ready, his father comes and takes him to London where he, along with many other young aristocrats, is brought before the king who is looking for a page to take care of his son and heir. To everyone’s amazement Will is chosen for the much coveted job, and he instantly earns the enmity of the Duke of Norfolk and his son Percy. Percy was sure that he would be awarded the job, and when Will gets it, Percy makes it clear that he will do everything in his power to bring about Will’s downfall.

   Will is careful to do exactly as he is told and he cares for the prince to the best of his ability. Though Will likes the gifts and special treatment he receives, he misses the freedom he used to have when he lived with his family, and he hates living in a constant state of fear. He knows all too well how mercurial the king’s favor is, and that he is owned by the king. His very life rests in the kings hands.

   Knowing he has on choice, Will does his duty with as good a grace as he can manage, and then he finds out that his father is about to be arrested for treason. Robert has refused to accept King Henry as the head of the Catholic Church in England and he is going to be made to pay for his beliefs. Before he is arrested, Robert manages to arrange for Will to visit him in London. Robert tells his son to visit Lord de Crecy, who is Robert’s friend and who might be able to help.

   Though Will has all the accomplishments of a young gentleman, he has none of the skills that he needs to survive in the real world. He cannot go back to court, he has no allies, and he has no home of his own, so it isn’t long before he is hungry, filthy, lost, and in dire need of help. By sheer luck he ends up being found by Nick, a boy who quickly decides to take Will under his wing. Nick and his friends are poor and have to struggle to survive, but they willingly do what they can to help Will save his father.

   In this powerful historical fiction novel the author gives readers a story that is gripping and emotionally charged. Through Will’s eyes we see how King Henry rules through fear and how he removes those who challenge his authority with ruthless efficiency. His court may seem beautiful and glamorous, but beneath the gilded surface lies a world that is full of fear, deceit, deception, and a lust for power.

   It is fascinating to see how Will changes as the story unfolds, and how he learns to adjust as his circumstances change.