How do you get me excited about a new series? Promise six books in six years, each detailing the entire life of one of Henry VIII’s six wives. That’s how Alison Weir has grabbed me hook, line and sinker. Starting with a 600 page account on the wife who he was married to the longest, and changed religion in the UK forever to divorce, Katherine of Aragon.
Six weeks from home across treacherous seas, everything is different: the language, the food, the weather. And for her there is no comfort in any of it. At sixteen years-old, Catalina is alone among strangers.
She misses her mother. She mourns her lost brother.
She cannot trust even those assigned to her protection.
So I bought a finished copy of this book, in hardback, despite owning a proof copy because I loved this book so much. I am so excited for this series. The idea of the six hardcopies lined up is the definition of shelf porn, and I wanted to support it in any way I could. I’ve only bought one other book that I own a proof of before and that was Conquest by Jennifer Ridyard and John Connolly, and I never shut up about that book. This is going to be the same kind of thing.
While most fictional versions of Henry VIII and his wives only tell the story of the wife when they’re married to him, this starts with a sixteen year old Catalina and ends with her death. All the books I’ve read/ shows and movies I’ve watched about the era always move the focus onto the next wife as soon as they pass out of Henry’s favour. I found myself learning so much about pre-and-post-Henry Katherine despite previously thinking I was knowledgable about the Tudors. I loved this aspect because lets face it, Henry’s wives are a heck of a lot more interesting then Henry himself.
And yes, I say that I was learning because Alison Weir is a historian, has written history books and this is historical fiction based on intense research and the newer theories about Katherine with letters written out verbatim. This was very clearly based in fact. And I will say that while Alison Weir is a very talented historical fiction writer who made reading this six hundred page mammoth a delight, there was only five or six times the writing really stood out as great, rather than just pleasurably readable.
But what I loved most was that it wasn’t unbiased and it wasn’t omniscient. It was Katherine knowing what little she was told and feeling the way she felt. Her villain was Anne Boleyn, and while reading, I disliked her too! But I know that the next book from Anne’s point of view will see Katherine as getting in the way of what she wants. Reading is all about perspective and empathy, and I can’t wait to see how I feel when I read about the same time and the same events from the other side. That book cannot come out soon enough. Can you tell I’m excited? I’m so excited.
In the end, I cried over someone who has been dead for 500 years when I reached the last few pages of this book. I’m not religious, but I hope Katherine got something for her devout faith. She was a true Queen in every sense.
“And tell the King that I am ready to obey him in everything save for the obedience I owe to two higher powers- God and my conscience.”