British historian Castor chooses a well-rehearsed period of history to re-examine what made the Tudor monarch tick from a new perspective.
The tale of Henry VIII’s meteoric rise to supreme power is told in the first person, present tense, providing a credible analysis of Henry’s character as it evolved from innocent child to the charismatic brutal warrior that stares out from Holbein’s portrait. Traumatized by the death of his mother in childbirth and haunted by a recurring vision of a deathly boy, the young Hal fills his life with manly pursuits, fighting, jousting and gambling. When his elder brother, Arthur, unexpectedly dies, Hal realizes that a prophecy has been fulfilled, and he now has a straight line to the throne. However his pleasure at the unexpected succession is short-lived. The difficulties of producing a royal heir, together with the thwarting of his overweening military ambition against the French by Spanish Catherine’s family and his own more cautious advisers cause Henry to become increasingly cynical and desperate. His final decline into a paranoid, apoplectic tyrant is portrayed in a sequence of quasi-cinematic tableaux that punctuate the 30-year span of his reign and clarify the complex historical narrative. The unabashedly modern dialogue is at times jarring, but minor anachronisms are easy to forgive in this ambitious effort.
Readers will be caught up by the sweeping tale, which is more successful than many similar attempts at bringing a fascinating historical character and period to life. (Historical fiction. 13 & up)