Hampton Court curator Worsley’s debut novel for teens digs into the danger that lies just beneath the glamour of Henry VIII’s court.
Newly trained maid-in-waiting Elizabeth Camperdowne is sent to court to find a rich husband and save her father, Lord Anthony, from financial ruin. Wild-natured, red-haired white Elizabeth and her “luxuriantly plump and sloe-eyed” cousin Katherine Howard arrive at court in time for the lecherous Henry’s marriage to wife No. 4, Anne of Cleves, whom they will attend. After Henry sends Anne into exile for failing to consummate their marriage, the narrative proceeds to follow Katherine’s rise from mistress to fifth wife and her subsequent execution for adultery. Elizabeth, the fictional narrator, must remain vigilant; one wrong move can cost her her life, but she does have a choice, which gives her more power than she thought she possessed. She can seize the opportunity to save her family by becoming the king’s mistress, or she can risk everything to be with the man she loves, bastard-born page Ned Barsby. The novel is a satisfying blend of fact and artistic liberty: the women’s duties as maids of the court are drawn from history, but Katherine’s illicit lover is an amalgam of her two real-life lovers. The retention of British spellings and the inclusion of lesser-known customs of the period add further authenticity.
Exhilarating, romantic, and illuminating; has the potential to turn casual readers into Tudor history buffs. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 15 & up)