Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The King's Rose by Alisa M. Libby

Historical fiction is not my thing, so I thought I'd step out of my comfort zone and try this novel, intrigued by the promise of something with a "throbbing romantic pulse." While I found the romantic pulse more faltering than throbbing, this book did intrigue me enough to actually google Catherine Howard.

Since this is history, don't yell at me for ruining the ending...it already happened and there's no creative license allowed in changing it. Catherine Howard is only 15 when she marries King Henry, a man who is 40 with multiple wives already under his belt, many of whom he sentenced to death. He is also overweight with a festering wound/ulcer on his leg, which makes him all the more less appealing to a thriving 15 year old, crown or not. Marrying the king isn't as simple as she thinks. The King wants a virgin and Catherine hasn't been a virgin since Francis Dereham and she started playing husband and wife when she was twelve. That, however, didn't stop her aunt, the Duchess, from flaunting Catherine and securing her marriage to the King under the disguise that she is, in fact, a virgin. While she struggles to perform her wifely duties, Catherine also struggles with the fact that she is in love with someone else, Thomas Culpeper (yes, he is her cousin, but times were different back then). As she waits for her coronation, Catherine knows that the only way to ensure her safety as queen will be to get pregnant. However, try as much as she and Henry can given his illness, she cannot get pregnant. In an effort to do such a thing, Catherine, the Duchess, and her trusted confidant Lady Rochford hatch a plan to use Thomas as a means to an end. While Catherine knows this is treason, she can't hide her desperation for a child and her lust for Thomas and soon an affair ensues. In the meantime, people from her past appear in her life, including Francis Dereham. Desperate to keep her shady past secret, she offers them jobs at the castle, but only so much can be done before the truth comes out and this King doesn't take too kindly to being played the fool. Before she knows what hit her, Catherine and her family and friends are being interrogated, held prisoner and some even tortured to the point that they confess the deeds done against the king, most resorting to only versions of the truth to protect their own skin while taking down the queen. No one is safe, not even the queen, something she should have learned from her beheaded cousin Anne Boleyn, Henry's 2nd wife.

My dislike for the genre obviously tainted my enjoyment of this novel. I had hopes that it would prove as passionate as the front flap led me to believe, but it didn't really come through. There's not much you can do with history without going crazy on the creative licence, but I think some of it was watered down for the young adult audiences. There were definitely scenes that I saw going further that didn't take that leap. I sympathized with Catherine and her position, torn between duty that her family placed her in and her own personal desires, but at the same time, I found her a bit whiny and I got tired of hearing about her desperation to get pregnant and her love for Thomas. I wanted her to realize that she lost her chance, but that's not how the story goes, so I had to deal. It did seem to drag, leading up to the point that she and Thomas finally come together, and even then, it wasn't as satisfying as I hoped it would be. It picked up a bit when she was found out, but that high was fleeting and the story ended. I thought the novel did a good job, though, of showing the corrupt nature of the court and how people would do anything and sacrifice anyone for the cause.

If you enjoy historical fiction, feel free to pick up this novel. If it's not your thing, well, it's up to you to give it a shot. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't as thrilling as the front flap leads you to believe.

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