**spoiler alert** I picked this book up because I realized that despite having read a ton of Tudor-era historical fiction, I'd never actually read som...more**spoiler alert** I picked this book up because I realized that despite having read a ton of Tudor-era historical fiction, I'd never actually read something from Henry's point of view. Add in the fact that hardly anyone cares to write about the pre-Anne Boleyn era in his life and I was sold.
The book itself went back and forth for me. The first half or so was excellent; I think it did a really great job of showing us how Hal's early experiences shaped his mindset and everything he did in his later years. And Elizabeth Woodville was an absolutely lovely character to see. I enjoyed the slight edge of the supernatural with the apparitions of the boy--ghost or delusion? The mystery definitely kept me reading.
Unfortunately, as other reviewers have pointed out, the second half was a bit of a letdown. It's impossible to satisfactorily go into everything the author tried to go into in only 400 pages, although I commend her for trying; the second half of the book felt disjointed and too sparse. This would have made more sense near the end when Henry's mental state really began to deteriorate, but 200+ pages of it just felt like lazy writing. And I hate to use that word because the author really seems to care about historical accuracy and I felt like she did her research well (aside from a few conversations that read as too modern to be anything but jarring).
Even with the sparseness Castor manages to paint vivid pictures of some characters, such as Anne, so I might still have tipped into four-star territory were it not for the ending. Specifically, the conclusion of the ghost story. And that's just it: Was it a ghost story? Or was it an illustration of Henry's madness? More to the point, who was he? One of the murdered princes in the Tower? Some of the last lines seem to imply that he's Henry himself, but that makes no sense--are we meant to believe that Henry really didn't recognize his own mirror image, even as a child? Never mind the "hair the color of straw". The only theory I can come up with is that it's Arthur, but again, why wouldn't Henry recognize his own brother? The still-anonymous boy was such a source of mystery and intrigue for me through the whole book, so the fact that we still don't know who or what he was at the end was a massively frustrating letdown.
In the end I can't bring myself to give this one more than three stars. But I did enjoy it; it was a fast read and I feel like it brought something different to the genre. I'll definitely be picking up the author's next book, especially if she makes good on her promise to write about Mary and Elizabeth!(less)
**spoiler alert** Once more I curse the lack of a 2 1/2 star rating. I haven't quite sorted out my feelings on this one.
On the one hand, Shecter obvio...more**spoiler alert** Once more I curse the lack of a 2 1/2 star rating. I haven't quite sorted out my feelings on this one.
On the one hand, Shecter obviously did her research. The world she builds feels realistic and thorough, and it definitely sucks you in (even if a translation would have been useful at times).
I also enjoyed the characters and their relationships much more than I thought I was going to. Lucia is relatable, Tag is adorable, and their relationship is built on friendship and dialogue rather than love at first sight, which I appreciate. Lucia's difficult relationship with her father and Tag's warmth toward Castor were fun to watch. Quintus was a delight, even at his most obnoxious; I enjoyed the differing ways in which he interacted with all of the different characters, and I was pleased to have my gut feeling regarding his feelings toward Tag confirmed. So that was nice.
Something about the ending didn't sit well with me, though. Part of that is the fact that after escaping the earthquake and all the subsequent havoc, Lucia dies anyway, and in the most cliche of ways. I'm torn on this. While I love the image of her cursing her father with her last breath, I feel that if the author was going to kill her off, it should have been as a result of the eruption. I don't care what kind of advanced literary irony this was supposed to be; it felt unnecessarily cruel and left a bad taste in my mouth.
The other issue I had was the lack of closure. I realize this might be an unfair criticism because the novel is, after all, only told from two points of view, and neither of those characters are in the middle of Ground Zero when things really go to hell. But it still felt like a bit of a cheat that we don't actually know for sure what happened to all the secondary characters we'd grown to care about--Cornelia, Quintus, Pontius, Metrodona, etc. We assume they all die because it's the written equivalent of a disaster movie, but that assumption seems like a lackluster exit for 2/3 of the novel's cast. Is it possible for the conclusion of a book set in Pompeii to feel anticlimactic?
This one did keep me engaged, so I'm going to err on the side of three stars. But I do wish there was a half-star rating function.(less)