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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
The House of the Red Duke: A Phoenix Rising by Vivienne Brereton takes readers back to Tudor England at the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth centuries. The old King Henry had died and the young, handsome, and extremely brash King Henry VIII had just ascended to the throne. The year was 1509. For the time being a fragile peace existed between the old arch-enemies of France, England, the Habsburgs, who ruled central Europe, and of course, the Pope. Questions were arising whether peace was even possible long-term with a young upstart king on the English throne, determined to prove his strength and valor on the field of battle. The Howard family had ridden the political waves of greatness and despair over the years, having sadly backed the losing King Richard III in the battle of Bosworth Field some decades earlier, but under the clever stewardship of the elderly Thomas Howard, the family name was slowly being restored and favor once again was being granted to this great English aristocratic family. Taking the reader from England to Scotland, and across the “narrow sea” to France, the fortunes and fates of many noble families will lie at the whims of kings and queens. Against this background of political intrigue, religious interference, organized marriages, lovers' trysts, and always, pending war, the story of the Red Duke unfolds.
The House of the Red Duke: A Phoenix Rising is a fascinating insight into the lives of the rich and famous so many centuries ago. Author Vivienne Brereton has given us a cast of real-life characters so unusual and so different they could have been conjured up by Shakespeare himself. The story is relayed from multiple points of view, from the elderly Thomas Howard through to the children of the various participants, which gives great variety to the emotions, motivations, and perceptions of all the characters that make up this twisting story. One particularly novel idea the author employs is to provide recipes for many of the foodstuffs eaten by the characters within the story, which is both unusual and quite fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the character of Tristan who despite being so much more than he actually realized, had just one major concern in his life. That being, how to avoid being sent to join the church and take the vow of celibacy, a fate worse than death, in his young opinion. I also loved the dilemma facing him being of an English mother and a French father as to which side he was actually on should France and England return to war. The plot is well strung together and the author did a fine job of keeping all the disparate threads under control and I enjoyed some of the subtle linkages between these great noble families. This is a relaxing read and one I can recommend to history buffs and especially those interested in the Tudor line of English royalty.