VIII by H.M. Castor
Henry VIII is a figure whose reputation precedes him – a man best known for chopping off heads. I didn’t know much about Henry’s rise to power, and so when I first picked up HM Castor’s (pictured, left) novel VIII I had no idea what to expect, though by the end I was impressed by this fascinating and original glimpse into the mind of the king.
The novel opens with young Henry (or Hal, to those close to him) being spirited away in the middle of the night to the Tower of London, scared and confused. And as he grows, we get a picture that is far from the power-crazed king popularised throughout history: Hal is a boy living in the shadow of his older brother. He is not cherished by his father, but feared and despised.
Throughout his life, Hal is tormented by the spectre of a blonde-haired boy who appears to him, normally at moments of trouble. He is there when Hal learns of his mother’s death, and again in his later years when he loses yet another son. We see an athletic young man with principles and dreams slowly deteriorate into a suspicious tyrant who cannot trust anyone around him.
This is a dark and gripping account which will provide you with a different take on such a well-known figure. VIII is perfect fare for readers with an interest in history, though the strength of the writing means it will equally appeal to anyone.
Holly Harper is a children’s bookseller at Readings Carlton where she organises the kids and Young Adult e-newsletters. She also writes books for younger readers under the name H.J. Harper. Find out more about her Star League series and other books here and follow her on twitter - @hj_harper.