History MMF: #24 – Ooku no Ko by Bikke

Tudors England is quite tricky — especially when you have a king who’s been hacking off his wives’ heads. One can only imagine the level of distrust in a royal court filled with intrigue and political turmoil. Ooku no K0, Child of the Kingdom, by Bikke rides on this atmosphere as Henry faces his last few days. Many were counting the days until his death while others were already plotting on who they should support next.

Mindful of of this political game is a young William Cecil who crosses a young actor on stage. He drags the young man to court and shows him to a young Elizabeth. He suggests that this young man be Elizabeth’s political decoy, a body double. And while Elizabeth finds it hard to believe, the young man proves to be as regal as her.

This title was quite something I didn’t expect. Simply because I really just got this for the pretty cover. OTL

And more often than not, pretty doesn’t necessarily mean amazing. Perhaps because the cover was quite ambiguous and I really just thought that it’s going to be one of those erotic period pieces. There’s a girl whose corset is all shifty and tattered. I mean it’s got to be a girl, right? I honestly can’t tell if it’s a girl or a boy in the cover. I mean, is it so wrong to get a book because it’s so damn pretty?

Thankfully, I had no regrets in this one — and it was even quite surprising!

I didn’t expect that the story will be about Elizabeth I nor did I even consider that it will be tackling something quite unexpected for that period — political decoys. Now I’ve only heard of decoys during WWII and I’ve heard of decoys for the pope and such. But not for the Tudors! Well, I hear it was a joke in Blackadder, but it can’t be true, right? Well history has no say on whether Tudor England employed decoys. But Bikke has drawn a convincing world where a decoy devotes his life for his master, facing their fears and even their deaths.

In the first volume, we meet Elizabeth’s decoy, a young actor named Robert/Roberto. Robert’s rather crass but he shares the same face and build as Elizabeth. As an actor, he does her part well. The two of them also shared the same sentiments as older sibling to a younger brother. Somehow, that helped Robert ease into accepting his second life as Elizabeth. In ways, this also earned the young princesses’ trust.

The story revolves around Elizabeth, Robert, and the English court. When Henry VIII died, other political actors began to move their pawns. Cecil already earned his trusted position beside Elizabeth because of Robert, however, there were others like Edward and Thomas Seymour and Francis Walsingham who began to make their moves in the court as well.

Bikke’s interpretation of English court life is fascinating and to be honest, I’m quite interested in the angle that she’s taken for this time in history. To see the court intrigues and plots through the eyes of their decoys turned out to be quite compelling. The first volume shows the fate of Henry VIII’s decoy, but how will Robert and the others fair now that they were at the center of the court’s attention? Especially when people sidle to them as if they were the real thing. Who tells the truth and who speaks of nothing but lies?

It’s amazing and exciting that by the end of the first volume, I wanted to have the next. Bikke draws the period quite well, engaging the readers not only to the famous icons and details of that time (I love how the dresses are drawn!) but also the atmosphere of that period. She draws an almost innocent period for the Tudors, particularly for Edward. That said, there’s enough tension in the eyes of Robert and Elizabeth — they cannot be at ease in court and they to bow for anyone else but each other.

What I also enjoyed was the fact that she used Robert as a body double. Now I know you guys are thinking that I’m just biased because I love crossdressing boys but Robert’s situation does not feel forced. Bikke understood the circumstances of English theater and used it to fulfill this fantasy. What I’m particularly impressed she does not make this a gender issue for Robert. There was hardly any gender drama involved with his transition. In fact he finds honor working for her and chooses to devote himself to her. It’s one of those stories where everything seems to fall into place and you’re there to see where this story will take its turn. Not once did I feel uneasy about the retelling. I can sense that Bikke’s done her fair share of research for this title.

If you know your history, this story can only go in one direction. But like every historical retelling, the romance and the magic begins with what happens in between, the things that historians never account for which we are left to imagine. So far, I’m reading that she won’t let the Thomas Seymour incident pass. Personally, I have my suspicions that Robert might also be developed as Robert Dudley, but I’m not sure. But wouldn’t that be an interesting twist?

 



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