Review: The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn (2021)

The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn

Blurb

‘I want you to remember something, Nat. You’re small on the outside. But inside you’re as big as everyone else. You show people that and you won’t go far wrong in life.’
 
A compelling story perfect for fans of The Doll FactoryThe Illumination of Ursula Flight and The Familiars.
 
My name is Nat Davy. Perhaps you’ve heard of me? There was a time when people up and down the land knew my name, though they only ever knew half the story.
 
The year of 1625, it was, when a single shilling changed my life. That shilling got me taken off to London, where they hid me in a pie, of all things, so I could be given as a gift to the new queen of England.
 
They called me the queen’s dwarf, but I was more than that. I was her friend, when she had no one else, and later on, when the people of England turned against their king, it was me who saved her life. When they turned the world upside down, I was there, right at the heart of it, and this is my story.
 
Inspired by a true story, and spanning two decades that changed England for ever, The Smallest Man is a heartwarming tale about being different, but not letting it hold you back. About being brave enough to take a chance, even if the odds aren’t good. And about how, when everything else is falling apart, true friendship holds people together.

Review

Having seen brilliant reviews for this book, and deciding that it sounded like exactly the sort of story I would love, I was thrilled to get a proof copy from Jess Barratt at Simon & Schuster. Many thanks to Jess for the chance to read this wonderful book, which, as I suspected, I fell completely in love with.

Beginning in 1625, this novel covers a period of history that I really didn’t know much about before I started reading. The setting and period are wonderfully evoked, and the book wears its impressive research lightly, as the best historical novels do. The turbulence of political life in England at this time is brilliantly depicted, and Frances Quinn does a marvellous job of showing how ordinary people are caught up in the dangerous, changeable tides of history. There are some lovely, wise insights about personal connection versus political affiliation: despite being close to the centre of the royal court, the main character is no blind royalist – he sees the King’s weaknesses and failings, and it is incredibly enlightening and realistic to see the way in which, for many of the characters, survival rather than political or moral high-mindedness is the driving force behind their actions.

Nat Davy himself is an absolute joy of a protagonist, the kind you miss when you finish the last chapter. I loved following him on his adventures and watching him change and develop as a character. He isn’t perfect, but his flaws make him real and human, and he has a wonderful capacity to learn and adapt. His heart is anything but small, and I adored the gentle, loving connections he forms as the story progresses. His relationships with his friends and with the Queen are nuanced and sympathetic, and it really made me ponder the precious nature of human connection. We could all learn something from Nat.

This is a hopeful, heart-warming, wise story; it is an absolute pleasure from start to finish, and the kind of book I can see myself buying for loved ones as presents (and being thanked for my excellent taste in books, of course!). I can’t recommend this warm, witty, gorgeous novel enough – and I am very tempted to treat myself to one of the beautiful indie bookshop editions!

The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn is published by Simon & Schuster and is available to purchase here. The beautiful indie bookshop edition is available here or from your local indie.

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