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“You cannot rule others until you can rule yourself,” Brother Simonds.  —The Player King

The Player King

by Avi
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Young Lambert Simnel, a penniless orphan, slaves away in a tavern. He’s a nobody who is treated badly by his master. Lambert spends his time working in the kitchen and trying to avoid his master’s fist. Lambert’s life suddenly changes when a mysterious friar, Brother Simonds, purchases Lambert and hides him in a guarded house. Scared and uncertain of his future, Lambert’s only desire is to return to the tavern.

King Henry VII stole the crown and pronounced himself King of England. The true heir to the throne, Prince Edward has disappeared. With the help of an Earl, Brother Simonds sets out to make Lambert the player king—Lambert must learn to become Prince Edward. Lambert doesn’t trust those around him; however, he has learned one lesson well: do as you are told. Lambert is in a dangerous game where everything is at stake; Lambert wonders if he will survive as those around him battle for power.

Told from Lamber’s point of view, The Player King is a captivating story that brings 1486 history to life.  Lambert is a well-rounded character whose emotional turmoil pulls the reader into the story. The vivid imagery and dialogue bring medieval England to life. Readers will not only learn what life was like for royalty, but also for the poorest serfs.

According to the publisher, The Player King’s is written for readers as young as eight. Even though the chapters are short, the dialogue of the characters may be challenging because of the realistic use of time period language. Avi’s use of more complex sentence structure may also be difficult for some readers. The violence is appropriate for the age group, but there are several descriptions that are gory and could be upsetting. Overall The Player King is an intriguing historical fiction that is an excellent story for more advanced readers.

Sexual Content

  • None


  • As part of the narration, Lambert said that his master was “more than happy to pound on me.”  Lambert talked back to his master’s wife and she, “pulled my hair, call me a sluggish skelllum, and predicted a quick hanging.”
  • When Lambert falls asleep during his lessons, the friar slaps him. Later in the story, when Lambert tries to run away, the friar, “Struck me hard across the face.”
  • The friar explains to Lambert what would happen if Lambert was accused of being a traitor. ”You would be hanged, but before you’d fully die, your guts would be stripped out through your stomach wall and burned before you, while your beating heart would be removed and stuffed into your bloody mouth. Finally, your body would be cut into four quarters and nailed about the town.
  • When a servant does not bow to the future king, “a soldier went and struck the man so that he tumbled to the ground.”
  • A battle is described over a chapter. When men with crossbows begin the battle, Lambert “saw some of Henry’s men fall.” During the battle, “some shields were raised. Even as they were raised, many men fell, pierced mortally by arrows.”
  • At the end of the battle, “Henry’s army pursued, chasing and hacking down my soldiers by the hundreds. Arms broken, severed. Guts tumbled. Heads rolled down to the bottom of deep gullies, where they lay forever still.”

Drugs and Alcohol

  • Lambert is a kitchen boy in a tavern, where customers are served drinks. The narrator tells about when friars and priests come and drink. Lambert was told to be respectful “even if they had drowned in their cups.”
  • During a play, an actor “acted drunk.”
  • During a dinner, Lambert listens to two lords talking, “. . . The way they slurred their words told me they had already drunk too much.”


  • Actors perform a version of the Noah story; however, in this story, Noah was a drunk, and “God dumped a filled piss-pot over him.”
  • Master Tackery calls Lambert a “boiled bootlicker” and a “want-wit.”


  • None

Spiritual Content

  • Actors perform the story of King Solomon with two women who both claim a child as their own.
  • Actors perform a version of the Noah story; however, in this story, Noah was a drunk. “Though God warned him a great flood would come unless he stopped drinking, this Noah drank anyway, so God dumped a filled piss-pot over him.”
  • One of the main characters is a friar who prays to God.
  • Lambert prays to Mary and asks, “that she would be by my side in times to come.”
  • Lambert feels the need to pray and thinks that Brother Simons, “had not taught me how to save my soul.”
  • Before going into battle a character said, “the Lord’s will shall be done.”
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“You cannot rule others until you can rule yourself,” Brother Simonds.  —The Player King

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