VIII by H.M. Castor, published by Templar on 1st October 2011
VIII is the story of Hal: a young, handsome, gifted warrior, who believes he has been chosen to lead his people. But he is plagued by the ghosts of his family's violent past and, once he rises to power, he turns to murder and rapacious cruelty. He is Henry VIII. The Tudors have always captured the popular imagination, but in VIII, Henry is presented fresh for a new generation.
I’m a sucker for all things historical – books, films, TV series, and the Tudors is my absolute favourite period. I love reading about the Royal Family and the various Kings and the Queens that ruled over England and I find the political intrigue, revolutions and plotting that went on throughout the Tudor period absolutely fascinating. ‘VIII’ by H.M. Castor was therefore exactly the sort of book that appealed to my reading tastes. Described as Wolf Hall for the teen and crossover market, this title has broad appeal and has been pitched perfectly for those who enjoy this particular genre.
The book takes an interesting approach to the retelling of Henry VIII’s reign, devoting more attention to the character of the young Hal before he becomes King. I thought this was a really clever way of exploring his motivations for wanting to become King, as well as his relationship with his mother, grandmother and brother Arthur. These early years and the people who figure in his life are seen to have a huge influence on his later reign. The first person narrative also works well as a device to provide insight into Hal's character, helping the reader to understand how he could transition from being a sweet boy into a ruthless King.
All too often historical novels can get bogged down in a little too much historical detail. Although this obviously serves to set the scene for the period and paints an interesting picture of the past, it can sometimes make for heavy reading. In my opinion 'VIII' struck exactly the right balance. All the facts are there and a huge amount of research has obviously been carried out to make sure that the facts are retold accurately but the story is very much character driven which ensures that the book is an entertaining and informative read.
The book shows another side to Henry VIII, beyond the King who was known to have six wives but the story does also follow Hal's descent into the well known figure he's usually depicted as. I enjoyed seeing Hal's relationship with his first wife Catherine and the way that this marriage eventually deteriorates because of his desperation to have an heir to the throne. Male offspring were obviously hugely important as they ensured the security of the throne from those that would seek to take it. This was an integral part of the book and is shown as central to many of the decisions that Hal ends up taking.
The only thing that I didn't enjoy quite so much in the book was the apparent ghost story. I found this to be slightly superfluous to the main plot and I didn't always feel that the paranormal side of things worked well with this genre. However, historical fiction lovers should definitely get their hands on this offering from an exciting talent and I'm looking forward to seeing what period H.M. Castor will turn her hand to next.