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