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VIII by H M Castor 

HB, 399 pages, Templar Publishing


Templar are the company that brought the reading public the beautiful, if awkwardly named, “‘Ology” books (Pirateology, Dragonology, Vampireology, etc), and “VIII” keeps up that tradition as a glossy, lovingly embossed, hardback that oozes quality.  Judging books by their covers alone, this would be a winner.  But how many times did your mother warn you not to do that?

I have to confess, as a reader, there are two things that put me off any book right away – writing in the first person, and the present tense.  “VIII” is both of these things, so it’s a massive credit to H M Castor that my prejudices were won over by the end of the second page.  Indeed, having finished the book, it’s impossible to imagine it written in any other way, so well does the narrative voice fit the story.  And that voice, captured here in wholly convincing fashion, is that of one of the most notorious kings in English history, Henry VIII.

But this is not a Henry you’ve seen before, the bloated, gout-ridden wife-swapping monarch.  This is the story of how the boy-prince became a man, and how the man became a monster, told through his own eyes.  It makes unsettling, compelling, reading.  Only the fact that the book is targeted at a YA audience spares the reader some of the more gory aspects of the legend, and what’s left unsaid and implied makes it even more disturbing.  Castor has done a superb job in depicting the young kings unravelling mind, his motivations, his misguided intent, in a way that leaves the reader simultaneously sympathetic and appalled.

Of necessity, Henry’s wives and companions are consigned to the background; we see them only through Henry’s eyes, watch his interest in them wane as time passes (seconds, in the case of Anne of Cleeves, the Flanders Mare).  It would have been good to see more of them, but in his own mind, Henry is the star of the show, blessed by God with a destiny he is desperate to fulfill, tormented by visions of his family’s violent past and his own unacknowledged black heart.

A wonderful book, very hard to put down, and required reading for all ages.