Sunday, 22 January 2012

VIII - H.M.Castor

Henry VIII is someone I think no-one could live without knowing, especially here in the UK. I am actually studying him in History right now. As my teacher asked what do we know about Henry, we replied in an unplanned unison : 'He had six wives' and then burst into laughter.

But yes. Henry did have six wives. And yes, two were beheaded, two were divorced, one died and one survived, as the song goes. He fathered three children - Edward, Mary and of course, Elizabeth I - another monarch that no-one could live without knowing of.

So this was why I was interested in this book. After reading the back cover, the writer pronounced that this was her interpretation of Henry. It is true, a man whose father had fought in civil war and the fact, Henry was technically not supposed to be king (he was Henry VII's second son, his brother Arthur died before succession) - how did he grow up to be this ruthless, beheading, wife and son wanting man?
That is essentially was H.M.Castor explored.

Synopsis: The story follows Hal, a young, handsome, gifted youth who after overhearing some prophecies, believes he has been chosen by God to be King. Soon events unfold that lead to this becoming true. But he is haunted by the facts of his family's bloody past and once, he rises to power, he will do anything to make them go away and to secure his throne like those before had not - even if it means cruelty of murder. This is H.M.Castor's version of Henry VIII - Destined for greatness, tormented by demons.

Review: Wow. Just, erm, wow.
The last couple of days I have been incredibly ill, like 'I am not moving from this bed' ill. So one of the only forms of entertainment was reading and boy, when you have a gripping novel like this, it is easy to spend 3 hours reading continuously.

Like I said above, I know a LOT about Henry VIII, like probably the rest of the country, and more recently, the period of history leading up to his reign. Before his reign, as it is referenced to, there was the War of the Roses, a civil war in England that was basically caused by 'over-mighty nobles' or plainer, some nobles who had a lot of power and influence getting annoyed at the king and trying to overthrow him. This was an unsettling time for England with the chop and change of about 3 different kings. It only ended when Henry VIII's father, Henry Tudor defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth and went on to secure the dynasty and prevent another civil war in the future.

Having just learn all that in History for my exam last week, it was so refreshing to read it in this book, knowing exactly who and what their referring to. I think it just showed that this lady really did her researching and this book is throughout wonderfully detailed, but simple to understand the events of the time.

One thing I, of course, do not know about Henry VIII is his personality. We can guess from the palaces and paintings that he was extravagant, ruthless and, well, fat. But H.M.Castor has cleverly shown us her Henry, a man who HAS to be these things in order to achieve what he wants desperately: Empire and Sons. She hasn't tried to copy others or do the most accepted view of him. She hasn't tried to be clever and complicated about his character. She simply charts how he came to power and how this affected his behaviour. I liked this simplicity and I was never perplexed by his actions and the narrative she includes. With Henry being renamed Hal, she shows that this is could be anyone, that he is not the conventional Henry VIII but one of the potential characters he could have been - if that makes sense.

The writing is both descriptive and imaginative. There are times when she becomes a true writer and writes some beautiful things. At times, I could vividly imagine the narrative with the elaborate dresses and rooms, his behaviour and felt his desire for an Empire and Sons. At other times, Castor sums up the events or the thoughts at the time in a sentence rather than a paragraph as other writers do.
There is seriously nothing I can fault about this book. I found the battle scenes a tad boring but that is just me, and they do not drag on and on for chapters, like many other Historical Fiction books do.

Hal as a protagonist was interesting and was so engaging to see the change in him from being a boy to being a fully grown male king and of course the turn to ruthlessness. The contrast between the man we leave at the end of the book from the beginning is quite significant so there is a definite character change in this book. Although the story is centred around Hal, we also get a favour for his relationship and the personalities of his close family, including his wives. We see Anne Boleyn as this manipulative woman, Catherine of Aragon - a lady I started to really like and the struggle of Hal deciding whether to put his future son or his love first. The kindness and innocence of Jane Seymour, Hal's famous disgust to Anne of Cleves, the deceit and two faced Katherine Howard and the perfect, careful, caring wife of Katherine Parr - the wife I am so glad lived on after reading.

In short, this book is brilliant, jam-packed of historical detail, research and true events. Castor has shown Hal well, made him a unique character in the shoes of Henry VIII's. This book has a wonderful pace and tone where, as a reader, I felt a mixture of emotions for the characters - hatred, fear, happiness - everything. Although Hal is Henry, I felt like I was becoming him too when I read this. The ending is by far perfect for me and I anticipate anything else by this marvellous writer.
I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in Tudors or history iin general - no, I would recommend this to anyone. An example of the detail involved? After finishing this book and going back to college, I was the only one to get full marks in test on Henry VIII, thanks to this book.
Verdict: Just read it, I bet you enjoy it.

I give it a 5 out of 5

Author's Website:
Pages: 391
Publisher: Templar
Challenges: BBC, Historical Fiction

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what a fantastic review! I am so glad you enjoyed the book. Reading this has made my day - thank you.


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