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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Review: VIII by H. M. Castor

Fascinating, engaging and fresh presentation of a well-known figure

In many ways, reading a fictionalisation of the life of Henry VIII was always going to be like watching a car crash in slow motion. We know (at least broadly) where it is all going, where he'll end up, and I'm confident that most of us would go into the novel with little expectation of being sympathetic to Henry (or Hal, as he is known in the book).

And yet, H. M. Castor makes us root for Hal, longing for him to make good choices, to not head off down the destructive path that we know he's destined for. By starting in a dramatic moment in his childhood, she contextualises his beliefs and later actions, giving him purpose and reason for decisions which otherwise are incredibly hard to explain and rationalise.

The narrative is presented in the first person and the present tense, and it is masterfully done. I don't always like this PoV, but it works perfectly here to severely limit the novel's perspective and to locate us firmly in Hal's mind. The little touches, where you recognise names or events and realise what's coming next (speaking as someone with little formal History study), are very pleasing, and yet much of the novel's content and focus was new and fresh. This may be because of my ignorance of the specifics of Henry's life, but I feel that it's more to do with the narrowness of the perspective which fixes us firmly into Hal's experiences and his own interpretation of events.

Overall, I would strongly recommend this as an enjoyable read, and will definitely be mentioning it to the sixth formers I know who are taking History. I've had this hanging around on my Kindle for a while (shameful, I know, but my review pile is growing and I sometimes feel guilty reading books that I've bought when there are review books waiting and... but you don't need my blogger angst :)), and I was prompted to read it now by its position in the Carnegie longlist, which I can clearly see is well-deserved. I would not like to be a Carnegie judge - everything I've read off that list I've loved!

From the Product Description:

Destined for greatness - tormented by demons. VIII (Eight) is the untold story of Henry VIII, a gripping examination of why he turned from a charismatic teenager to the cruel tyrant he became in later life. Hal is a young, handsome and gifted warrior, who believes he has been divinely chosen to lead his people. But throughout his life, he is haunted by a ghostly apparition, and, once he rises to power, he turns to murder and rapacious cruelty.

Published in April 2012 by Templar
For more info, visit the author's website

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