Based on a true story, this juvenile novel relates events in England in 1486. Political turmoil grips the nation as King Henry VII seizes the throne. Meanwhile, young Prince Edward, the rightful monarch, has disappeared.
In Oxford, young Lambert Simnel—orphaned, hungry, poor, illiterate, and unsure of his lineage and age—is used and abused as a servant in a lower class tavern. Occasionally, he’s allowed to go on his own to the bakery and buy bread. One day, he sees a group of troubadours acting out a play about a king. Lambert is enthralled. He wonders what it would be like to be a player king, though he has no hope of a different or better life. In fact, he is often told by the tavern owner that he is nothing. He feels intense shame when he believes what he hears—“my life was worth no more than a spot of dry spit.”
As Lambert returns home from the bakery, he notices that he is being watched by a Dominican friar who eventually tells the boy that he is Prince Edward, the true King of England. As Lambert’s world is turned upside down, he slowly begins to understand the motivation of the friar, as well as many others he is in league with. Soon, Lambert experiences the trauma, intrigue, and responsibility of his seeming kingship.
The Player King is a fast-paced adventure filled with surprising plot twists. It gives readers a look at the daily life and culture of medieval England. Author Avi fleshes out what it can feel like and mean to be “somebody” and, on the other hand, what it can feel like and mean to be “nothing.” Through Lambert’s experiences, juvenile readers will see that status, whether held in the kitchen, the throne room, or the friary, can be fleeting, and that those who have been raised up by any circumstances can just as easily be flung down. Ages 8 and up. (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)