April roared in with an exploding pandemic, a dangerous fool incapable of leading our country, and extended orders to stay home in Michigan. Normally, the kinds of things that stretch to the limit my delicate balancing act with stability. The good news is I had a family to keep me distracted. Not my own (sadly), but the Tudors.
Somehow, the first half of 2020 brings with it two historical fiction releases about the man-child despot known as King Henry VIII. If you’re a fan of all things Tudor the way I am, then you’re aware of these series. If not, but you want to leave the 21st century behind and delve into another time then both these novels will be a nice respite from reality.
Katheryn Howard, the Scandalous Queen by Alison Weir
Published by Ballantine Books
Publication date: May 12, 2020
Alison Weir is back with the fifth book in her series about the Tudor queens. Katheryn Howard: the Scandalous Queen is about Henry’s fifth bride. They married after he dumped Anne of Cleves. Katheryn was 19 and Henry almost 50. As you can imagine, there was no common ground between the two. He fell in lust and hoped she’d be able to provide him with another son, as succession protection against the potential death of his son with Jane Seymour.
As always, Weir does a thorough job of researching Katheryn, but there is very little information out there. Her mother died while she was a child and her father was absent, so she was farmed out to relatives to raise. One of them was the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk which meant that while life was not hard, there was very little of the supervision and training expected for a young girl of aristocratic blood. Instead, by age 13 Katheryn was living in what basically sounds like a college dorm—a group of young women who like to have fun at night without chaperones. Katheryn eventually falls into the lifestyle, going so far as to “precontract” herself to a young man—basically a verbal agreement of marriage, followed by sex. Something she hides from everyone, but which proves to be her downfall with Henry.
Katheryn Howard is entertaining reading, but without the heft of the previous queens. Katheryn can’t be blamed for this. One, she was barely literate and so left behind no trove of materials for research. Two, she was, essentially, the Cyndi Lauper of her time—a girl who just wanted to have fun.
The Mirror & the Light (Thomas Cromwell Trilogy #3) by Hilary Mantel
Published by Henry Holt and Co.
Publication date: March 10, 2020
Hilary Mantel began her fictional retelling of Thomas Cromwell’s life eleven years ago with Wolf Hall. The second book, Bring Up the Bodies, came out seven years ago. Finally, this year, Cromwell breathes his last in The Mirror & the Light. He begins the novel as a 50-year-old man approaching the heights of his reign as the power behind Henry VIII’s throne. After fostering Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn, he didn’t hesitate to prosecute her for heinous crimes against God and man nor to look away when she lost her head. His king is happy with a new bride and soon an heir to the throne. Things only begin to go awry when this queen dies.
Suddenly, Cromwell’s prodigious mind is beset from all sides. The king needs a new wife, the king needs allies, the king needs money…the king needs all and only Cromwell can make it happen. When he does, with Anna of Cleves, and she fails to interest the king it begins his rapid downfall.
Every order that goes out from the king contains its countermand: if this has occurred, do that, but if you are delayed or deceived, by no means do the other, but write and ask us. Be cautious, but don’t delay. Strike boldly, but not too expensively. Use your judgement but refer all to the king.
The effort of writing The Mirror & the Light is evident in the amount of detail and background that fills the novel. Unfortunately, by this time it’s a lot of political maneuvering and diplomatic intrigue—nowhere near the action of the previous two books. So, while I appreciated being fully immersed in the 16th century I did find the novel’s 750+ pages to be about 200 pages too many.
Have you read any of the books in these series? If not, they’re very well done and the earlier books should be readily available for download from your library!
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