Laura Navarre's Reviews > The King's Rose

The King's Rose by Alisa M. Libby
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's review
Mar 25, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: historical-fiction
Recommended for: Lovers of historical fiction, Tudor fiction (e.g., Philippa Gregory)
Read in January, 2012

Despite the lavish abundance of Tudor stories (including mine!) that currently occupy the market, I’m a helpless slave to the period and can’t help reading just about all of them. So it was with The King’s Rose, which tells the brief, tragic story of Catherine Howard—Henry VIII’s fifth queen and the second he beheaded—at the tender age of sixteen.

Every author has her own take on the doomed, romantic figures of Henry’s many queens. Alisa M. Libby’s first person account of Catherine’s rise and fall is beautifully written, and at times very poignant. I pleasurably sobbed my way through the last fifty pages of naïve and helpless Catherine’s imprisonment and slow acceptance of her looming fate. The tempestuous young queen is tormented (much like teenagers everywhere) by her doomed love for king’s groom Thomas Culpeper, terrified of her royal husband’s growing madness, haunted by the ghosts of past Tudor tragedies and the dangerous indiscretions of her thinly-veiled past. Ultimately, despite her frustrating immaturity and a corresponding inability to become anything more than the king’s pretty plaything, the lonely Catherine Howard in The King’s Rose is a deeply sympathetic and endearingly flawed heroine. In the end, her downfall is hastened by her own ruthlessly ambitious family, the same Howards and Norfolks whose abandonment betrayed her cousin Anne Boleyn to her grave.

Overall, I found Libby’s treatment of Catherine Howard’s brief life to be a compelling and moving retelling of this Tudor tragedy. The narrative remains firmly on Catherine rather than the colorful Tudor offspring, the northern rebellion against Henry called the Pilgrimage of Grace, or other historical highlights of the period. Nonetheless, the author offers a richly-textured alternative to the view of Catherine as a thoroughly selfish simpleton in Philippa Gregory’s The Boleyn Inheritance, which I also heartily recommend. Indeed, I consumed Libby’s entire novel in a day, staying up into the wee sma’s to finish it! This is a worthy addition to the Tudor mythos and a recommended read for fans of the period and character-driven, woman-centered historical fiction.
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