Monday, 9 March 2015

Marius Reviews: The King's Jew by Darius Stransky

The King's Jew by Darius Stransky
Review by Marius Gabriel

Please see below for information about winning a FREE COPY!

The King's Jew: A brawling, sprawling tapestry of medieval life

Darius Stransky is an author who lives and breathes his subject. 

By that, I don't just mean that the background details of his thirteenth-century world are utterly convincing; they are, but that would not on its own make this an enthralling novel. 

What makes The King's Jew such a wonderful read is the cast of characters that Stransky has assembled. Each and every one is realized lovingly and vividly, and takes on his or her distinct existence. Stinking wretches grovelling in the mire, arrogant knights hacking each other to pieces, subtle moneylenders, beautiful maidens, the mad, the bad and the dangerous all come to life in a rich tapestry woven by a master storyteller.

And what a very broad, colourful tapestry it is! Stransky offers us landscapes and townscapes of every kind: the story moves from the brawling kitchens of palaces to the bloody horror of battlefields; from the teeming, squalid streets of London to the austere halls of castles; from dimly-lit and richly-ornamented cathedrals to the pastoral tranquillity of an England as yet unspoiled by the modern era.

The breadth of this canvas is one of the great achievements of the novel, but the people woven into it are what really make it a glorious read.

The characters can make or break a novel, no matter how clever the plot may be, or how convincing the background. Stransky takes the time to develop each and every one of the multitude who pass through his pages, no matter how fleetingly, and that makes for an endlessly fascinating read. We race from one intimate depiction to the next, from the lowest to the highest in the land, and each character has a story to tell. One can sense the glee the author had in inventing and developing his cast – the same glee that Chaucer must have felt in depicting his Canterbury pilgrims.

This, in other words, is a rich historical novel, "a fair field full of folk" representing not only dramatic historical events, but also portraying English society during one of its most turbulent periods.

Stransky's touch with dialogue is impeccable. From the silky murmurs of a wealthy Jewish moneylender to the ferocious curses of an angry knight, he gets it absolutely right. This is no mean feat, because the English of this period was very different from the English we speak today. Anyone who has read Chaucer or Langland will have an idea of that. Cleverly, the author has managed to make his characters sound convincing, without any hint of stiltedness or awkwardness.

There is plenty of violence, cruelty and barbarism in this novel. It was not a peaceful period. Life could be very cheap. Battles were bloody and savage; death came in hideous forms. War with the Welsh and the Scots was prolonged and ferocious. This period may have been the cradle of the English Renaissance, and the author gives us plenty of evidence for dawn of culture, but it was also a time of unceasing civil strife and ruthless oppression. 

It was during this period that the Jews were finally driven out of England. They were not to return for over three and half centuries. The rising tide of anti-Semitism, which culminated in the Edict Of Expulsion in 1290, is the central theme of the novel, taking shape in a series of telling incidents. 

Regarded as Christ-killers and usurers, falsely accused of vile crimes, the Jews are a focus of hatred and religious intolerance. Most people regard forcing them to convert to Christianity as an urgent duty. The Jews’ refusal to submit to conversion is evidence of maddening obstinacy -- which justifies persecution.  Partly to protect them, but chiefly to exploit them, the Jews of England are made possessions of the Crown. They belong to King Henry III, Edward’s father, in the same way as his lands and possessions do. But as in the 1930s, “something” has to be done about “the Jewish problem.”  Their fate hangs in the balance.

The central characters are two eccentrics: the lanky, brilliant Prince Edward, and a young knight of indomitable character, Sir Cristian Gilleson. A chance encounter in youth makes them lifelong friends and allies. 

Sir Cristian Gilleson, for reasons which the novel makes clear, has more sophisticated attitudes to the Jews than most of his contemporaries. As one of Edward’s chief companions, he will one day have the king’s ear. But Edward’s father Henry III is still on the throne, and intent on squeezing every penny he can out of “his Jews.”  Cristian’s attempts to mitigate the ill treatment of a group in which he finds much to admire and love, are to shape his career as much as his friendship with the prince. His perceived partiality to this detested people is to make him many enemies, and he is given the soubriquet “The King’s Jew,” in the same way that the Nazis would call Gentile sympathisers of the Jews “Judenfreunden” – Jew-friends. And of course, a friend of the Jews was an enemy of England – a very dangerous thing to be.

To give away more of the plot would be to spoil it for readers. Suffice it to say that there is never a dull moment from start to finish.

This novel is the first part of a trilogy spanning the violent decades of Edward I’s life, from 1239 to 1307. This volume, Book I: The Changeling, covers the period of Edward and Gilleson’s youth, from 1238 to 1265. Considering that it was not until Edward’s coronation in 1274 that things really started warming up, I for one can’t wait for the next volume!

This is an exceptional novel – historically accurate, well written, accomplished in every way. The book is self published and self edited, and there are a small number of typographical errors and grammatical lapses. But these are few and far between, and do not detract from one of the best historical novels that it’s been my privilege to read in years.

Highly recommended to all lovers of historical fiction, and an important book for those interested in the history of the Jews in England.

Author Darius Stransky has so graciously offered a FREE COPY of The King's Jew for one lucky winner! If you would like to get your name in the hat to win a free copy of this novel, simply comment below OR at this review's Facebook thread located here.

Darius Stransky can also be found at his website and keeps a Facebook page here, where you may find updates and information about The King's Jew. The novel can also be purchased at Amazon and Amazon UK.


Marius Gabriel is the author of The Testament Of Marcellus and a number of historical thrillers. His new novel, Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye, will be available August 2015. You can find Marius at his Amazon UK author page as well as Twitter.


  1. Well done, Marius! What a great review of what looks to be a brilliant read. Love it when reviewers and authors pull me out of my comfort zone and into another era, and here is yet another example! _The King's Jew_, for me, is a MUST READ! And there's to be a trilogy, even better! :D

  2. After reading your great review, Marius, I feel that this book will be on my TBR list imminently.

  3. Fab review - giving enough of a tantalising preview of what sounds like a well-rounded story, but without actually giving anything away. Makes me want to read it!

  4. Its not an era I've readabout but its a great review I think I need to investigate further


  5. Edward1 has always intrigued me so this book sounds just up my street . The review makes me want to read it so much

  6. It is interesting to learn from jews history at this this period in Englands history.There are not many good books about it.Historians have written more about kings and gueens ,like gueen Isabella(La Louve de France) etc....
    I think it`s wonderful that talented authors like Darius Stasky are giving us these great historical experiences.History is so interesting that I always want to read new books.When they are well written like Kings Jew, you can inhale the history and story - it feels like you are living in that story....

    1. It would be great if you can pop in your name so we can contact you if you win!

  7. An absolute jewel of a book and a jewel of a review, well done on your debut for The Review Marius! And well done Darius for writing a fabulous book!