By H. M. Castor
Published by Templar
ISBN 978 184877 500 8
Henry VIII (1491-1547) is probably the one monarch most people would name when asked to think of a British king. When he began his reign, Henry was regarded as well-educated, charismatic, accomplished and devoted to his job. Today he has a reputation as one of the most intriguing but controversial of England's monarchs.
The king's almost obsessive desire to provide England with a male heir to the throne led to the two things for which he is best remembered: his break from the Roman Catholic Church because he wanted to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon; and his eventual six wives (and his means of disposing of them).
Henry was a talented and handsome boy of 17 when he became king, but when he died, in 1547, he had become an overweight, unpopular and cruel king. So what had happened to bring about this dramatic change?
There have probably been more books, plays and films about Henry VIII than about any other English monarch (except, perhaps, his daughter, Elizabeth I). His life makes great cinematographic fodder; most recently, Henry was played by Australian actor Eric Bana in the 2008 film, The Other Boleyn Girl, while the popular TV series The Tudors brought Henry to television screens around the world.
Writer H.M. Castor is taking on a much covered subject in her young adult novel VIII. But has she anything new to say?
VIII is a highly ambitious story that positions Henry as the storyteller of his own life. And what a story. It has everything a modern reader wants in a novel: power, war, magic, passion, religion, suspense and destiny.
Castor brilliantly unwraps a life packed with incident and action into an accessible 400-page novel that will appeal to modern young readers, without dumbing down or lessening the power of the central character.
Castor writes in the first person - and in the present tense - to give readers, whether they are interested in history or not, a vibrant and gripping page-turner.
Nothing in the story is dry or dull. At the end, as the enigmatic ruler nears the end of his life, readers will either have been enthralled after coming to the story for the first time, or will have cast off a few preconceptions about what they thought they knew about him.
The first half of VIII tells the story of Henry's childhood and teenage years before he was propelled onto the throne. This is the more exciting part of the book. Henry was the second son of Tudor ruler Henry VII, and he never expected to be king.
The second half of the novel rushes through his reign as monarch, his six marriages and his failure to achieve what he believed to be his destiny.
Unusual, enjoyable and totally fascinating, VIII is an entertaining look at a great man's life as he might have seen it himself. History buffs will want to know more after reading VIII, and the rest of us will have enjoyed a good read that didn't seem like a historical novel at all.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com