A Crown of Despair by Jenny Mandeville

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A Crown of Despair by Jenny Mandeville

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A multi-viewed look at the unique wife of Henry VIII; the one who stayed long enough to be his widow. It demonstrates the tenacity and courage it took to ride the waves of politics, treason and religious bigotry while providing a couple of revelations you may not have read in 'hist fict' before… great stuff!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: February 2013
Publisher: Robert Hale Ltd
ISBN: 978-0719808579

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By the age of 31 Katherine, Lady Latimer, had been married and widowed twice. Her first match to an elderly, sickening baron ended at the age of 16, as miserably as it had started two years earlier. Her second marriage to John Neville, Lord Latimer, had been more comfortable. On his death she found love for the first time in her life, but to no avail. The monarch had seen Katherine and would claim her for himself no matter what her wishes may be. This forced marriage would make her famous, for down the centuries history would recount the story of Lady Latimer using her other name: Katherine Parr, the sixth and final wife of Henry VIII.

This is English author Jenny Mandeville's debut novel and already I owe her an apology. As I started the book and was faced with the emotional thoughts of Katherine, I mentally placed it in the 'woman's romance' category. Not that there's anything wrong with women's romance (even I've been known to dabble, dewy eyed and sniffly) but, in this case we have a story for all but the extremely anatomically squeamish as each character reveals a different dimension of the precarious life in Henry VIII's court.

Katherine is indeed full of the emotion one would expect as she walks the Tudor precipice, watched closely by Lord Chancellor Wriothesley in the same game of cat and mouse that her predecessors had lost. Beneath Jenny's pen we meet a Katherine who once reconciled to her fate as wife of one of the most dangerous husbands in history, just wants to reunite Henry's children and remain true to her faith but is misinterpreted.

Meanwhile through the wonderfully dark, complex Wriothesley (pronounced 'Risley' by the way) we see the enthralling machinations that the empowered initiate (and suffer from) to retain position, particularly when the two sides of the Christian coin (Catholics and Protestants) are battling for supremacy. (Squeamish Warning #1: there are a couple of detailed reports of torture that add to the authenticity and help us understand the prevailing fear but you may want to skip them if you've just eaten.)

However the highly original voice that remains with me (in a good way) is that of Thomas, the Groom of the Stool. (No, not the chair type of stool but… yes indeed, Squeamish Warning #2.) He lives in the fear engendered by seeing some of his fellow courtiers separated from their heads when in the wrong place with the wrong queen. He's also up-close-and-personal with the decaying Henry in ways that others aren't, providing us with totally enthralling small insights into the bigger historical headlines. Through young Tom we get a good idea as to why Henry's badly ulcerated leg (Squeamish Warning #3!) doesn't heal. What made me giggle with wicked mirth was the insight into Henry's gradual conjugal impotence. There are other, more medical, reasons too, but what Tom sees on the wedding night explains an awful lot.

Some idioms used may be more 20th century than 16th, but that's a daft comment in itself as, if it was in authentic language we'd not understand a word of it. (By the way, there is some swearing as is fitting for a king hampered by pain and despotic courtiers.) All in all this is a totally absorbing, original look at the last days of Henry and the Queen dragged to the throne by emotional force. Jenny Mandeville has gone where the likes of Philippa Gregory may have feared to tread, a daring that works well and that I can't help but applaud heartily.

If you enjoy a bit of Tudor and would like to read another historical fiction, this time with a more fanciful twist, try The Virgin Queen's Daughter by Ella March Chase. If you'd prefer to read more about Katherine herself, we recommend the historical biography Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr by Linda Porter.

Buy A Crown of Despair by Jenny Mandeville at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Crown of Despair by Jenny Mandeville at Amazon.co.uk

Buy A Crown of Despair by Jenny Mandeville at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Crown of Despair by Jenny Mandeville at Amazon.com.


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