The story starts with the so-called Peasant’s Revolt in 1381. It began in the hopes of correcting genuine inequities in the society at the time. It ended in mob rule. The tragic events have action and drama that work on multiple levels. At the time, however, Richard is little more than a boy trying to deal with the chaos and politics going on around him. He wants to do what is best for his people but feels imprisoned by his youth and advisors. Amidst the turmoil, the most important conflict is in Richard’s heart and mind.
Richard must learn how to be king even before he knows what kind of man he wants to be. Or can be. He strives for heroism but does not understand how to achieve that goal as he is buffeted by the forces around him.
The title of the book is apt because young Richard is a king under siege on many levels. The first and most obvious, of course, is the Peasant’s Revolt early in his reign, which is when he first tries to find his own moral compass. He wants to make his own decisions, take actions he believes to be right, which are objected to by his advisors. Opposition is so strong that Richard abandons promises made to his subjects in favor of the status quo expected of their masters.
Rochelle carries us along with Richard in this confusing journey. In the beginning, we can identify with the class struggles of the peasants. In the end we are more on the side of egocentric and self-serving royalty as Richard loses power to his enemies and to Parliament.
Historically, a siege will result in either success, in which case those being attacked are destroyed, or in defeat, in which case the attackers give up and go home.
Which is it for Richard?
On the one hand, in the end it seems as if Richard finally becomes the leader he wishes to be:
"You know very well that for the last twelve years I have been ruled by others,” he announced. “I have been allowed no part in the decisions…. I could do nothing without permission from my guardians…. Starting right now…I will transact my own business and make my own decisions."
Or is he only fooling himself? Has he really learned any real lessons in leadership? Just a few minutes later, Richard attempts to avoid any responsibility by blaming others:
“Richard had just released himself from all responsibility for past shortcomings in the government. He wasn't accountable for deficiencies during his minority. They were.”
If this story has a moral, it might be to show that results of such unrelenting, conflicting pressures on a young man during his formative stages. It could help a resilient person become stronger and wiser, to master, if not the world, then at least himself. For others, however, it could leave leave them emotionally crippled to fall prey to the forces around him. One of the fascinating questions in this story is how will the sieges against Richard shape his fate?
This is the first of the series. No doubt Rochelle will explore the answers in future volumes.
(I received an advance readers copy in exchange for an honest review.)