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The King's Jockey Paperback – December 20, 2012
The Sun (15 March 2013): "This wonderful tale is a fab read." **** | thebookbag.co.uk: "[The King's Jockey is] a book which can be read on two levels. Firstly, it's a wonderful story. Lesley Gray has lightly fictionalised the life of Bertie Jones, remaining broadly true to the facts but occasionally adjusting events and timings to suit her story and conflating or inventing characters. At the heart of the story is fact. Jones comes brilliantly to life, as does the time - the years between the turn of the century and the start of the First World War when so much was changing." ****
About the Author
"The King's Jockey" is Lesley Gray's first novel. Brought up in rural Oxfordshire, Lesley has worked in science publishing, IT and management consultancy. Lesley now lives in Kent with her husband. Here she combines her job in academic and educational publishing with writing and studying Comparative Literature at the University of Kent.
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Our story begins with a small boy who has a gift with horses. Even at a young age he seems to understand them better than most adults. For much of his life he's mucking stalls until he gets the chance of a lifetime to ride one of these fine beasts wearing the King's colors. The rest, is quite literally, history.
Admittedly, when I first picked up this book I did so with some trepidation and it's difficult to pin down exactly why. Perhaps it's the fact that I'm not much of a sports fan and particularly not of horse racing. All my hesitancy was pretty quickly swept away once I realized the historical significance of the place and times portrayed. This period in history is rather under emphasized in the high school curriculum here in the States so it was not only entertaining but educational. Ms. Gray does a grand job at giving us a hero we can really root for while painting a historical backdrop that is at once grim and sympathetic. The image of suffragettes being force-fed is not one that's likely to be erased from recollection anytime soon.
In the vein of historical accuracy, several times I found myself rather doubting some detail but inevitably upon reading the Wikipedia entry my doubts were put to rest. Most assuredly the author has taken some liberty with trivial personal details and in some cases made up events and characters out of whole cloth but she admits as much in her own postscript so she cannot be faulted. The general theme of the times and the recorded historical events are accurate.
Wandering to the constructive side of the argument, the text at times felt rather choppy as if the high points had been taken from a much larger work. I found myself wanting more details that simply weren't forthcoming. One cannot help but wonder how much of the desired remainder found its way to the proverbial cutting room floor.
In summary, this novel touches on a delightful point of forgotten (or never learned) history. The author's characters are sympathetic and the story feels very real though perhaps a bit truncated at times. It is a wonderful addition to the genre of historical novels and a cornerstone of the vanishingly small set of books devoted to the ancient sport of kings as practiced by real kings.