#BlogTour #BookReview - The Cardinal's Man by M.G. Sinclair

A spellbinding story set in Cardinal Richelieu's France

It's over a century before the Revolution and France is under siege. The Thirty Years' War has spread across Europe, alliances are stretched to breaking point and enemies advance on every side. And while Louis XIII sits on the throne, the real power lies with the notorious Cardinal Richelieu.

Now, with Richelieu’s health failing and France in grave danger, salvation may yet be found in the most unlikely form. Sebastian Morra, born into poverty and with terrible deformities, is a dwarf on a mission. Through a mixture of brains and luck, he has travelled far from his village to become a jester at the royal court. And with a talent for making enemies, he is soon drawn into the twilight world of Cardinal Richelieu, where he discovers he might just be the only man with the talents to save France from her deadliest foes.

The Cardinal's Man is a spellbinding story of France in the time of Richelieu and provides us with a very different kind of hero, a dwarf with the wit of Tyrion Lannister and three foot four inches of brazen pluck.

I'm honoured to be the host for today's leg of The Cardinal's Man blog tour, many thanks to Lina Langlee and Black & White Publishing for inviting me to take part.
The Cardinal's Man was inspired by Velázquez's portrait of court dwarf, Sebastián de Morra and although is a fictionalised telling of his story, many of the characters and events are broadly based on historical facts, albeit with some alterations for dramatic effect. Although not a period I'm knowledgeable about (and as I've never watched Game of Thrones the Tyrion Lannister reference meant little to me!) I was soon completely absorbed by this book.
Told in chronological order, we are introduced to the baby Sebastian, born in less than auspicious circumstances, in a fishing village in Normandy 'a straggle of no more than sixty dwellings, all in varying states of disrepair. Sebastian's was no exception.' Despite the love of his mother, Sebastian's physical differences cause him to be an outsider in his community, mocked and often beaten on account of his appearance. He quickly learns how best to survive in his unforgiving world - where to hide and how to defend himself. However, for a time it appears his torment at being born 'half a man, an insult to God and a mockery of nature' will overwhelm him but his cunning and intelligence will eventually lead him to Paris and the highest court in the land.
M.G. Sinclair vividly brings 17th century France to life, from the abject poverty of many citizens driven to the brink of starvation by the relentless Thirty Years War, to the opulence of Louis XIII's court and the power battles and intrigue behind the throne. The depictions of torture and death are sharply realised, The Cardinal's Man is often starkly visceral yet there is real beauty in the language used here too;
'The dangers were obvious and people would walk quickly, avoiding strangers and dark places, the fog catching their clothes, its tendrils like grasping fingers losing their grip. Even indoor there was no escape, and the vapour would wisp through cracks and keyholes, suffocating the candles and congealing the air.'
Although, as the author acknowledges, he has taken some liberties with the characters, they are never less than entirely believable, whether he is writing about Sebastian's provincial brother, court nobles or Cardinal Richelieu himself. His ruthlessness is never in doubt yet M.G. Sinclair has still imbued this notorious character with humanity too. Sebastian himself is a sheer delight of a character, often described as shrew like, his intelligence, quick thinking and bravery are balanced by his melancholia and occasional moments of foolhardy bravado or smugness. There's some real tension here too, although The Cardinal's Man is perhaps best described as a fictional biography, I feel it would also appeal to loves of taut psychological thrillers.
The Cardinal's Man is utterly compelling, eloquent, empathetic and often poignant; I haven't read much historical fiction of late, with this stunning debut, M.G. Sinclair has rekindled my love for the genre. I eagerly look forward to reading more from him in the future.
Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, dates are below.

The Cardinal's Man is published in the UK by Black & White,you can follow them on Twitter as @bwpublishing

About the Author

The only child of two writers, M.G. Sinclair grew up in a world that revolved around literature. Breaking the family tradition, he rebelled and joined the corporate world, where he worked as a copywriter and marketing executive. However, unable to escape the inevitable, he has now completed his debut, a historical novel inspired by a trip to the Prado in Madrid.