Tuesday, 5 March 2019

SHADOW OF PERSEPHONE by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK
On Amazon.com
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: I love this author's books and she has instructions to let me know as soon as a new one comes out!

In a Nutshell: the first in a two-part series about Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII.

Gemma Lawrence has given an interesting and unusual view of Catherine Howard in this first book about her life, which starts when she was sent to be brought up at the house of her grandmother, Agnes Howard, from the age of around seven, and takes us right through to her wedding to Henry VIII.  Ms Lawrence gives a thorough explanation, in the back of the book, about why she sees her not as the frivolous, superficial butterfly who knew little and cared less, but as a abused, lonely child, damaged by her early experiences, who, though not academically educated, was intelligent, clever, and used those experiences to gather her wits about her for what was to come. 

As with all Ms Lawrence's books, this spares no historical detail.  In the first twenty per cent, when Catherine was child and the country was caught up in the saga of Anne Boleyn and Katherine of Aragon, there is much talk of what was going on at court.  This is conveyed mostly in staged conversation between Agnes Howard and the Duke of Norfolk (almost like a play), and although it is interesting, and relevant to the world in which Catherine would eventually find herself, I looked forward to getting back to the story of Catherine.  As the novel progresses, her own life soon takes centre stage once more, and I was completely engrossed; it was one of the those books that got better and better as it went along, and by 80% I was trying to read slowly to make it last longer

The second half of the book concerns much about when Catherine went to court, and the Anne of Cleves fiasco.  This part was particularly fascinating to me, as I have only read a few accounts of the second and more fortunate Anne, the true winner in the tale of Henry VIII's six wives.  I loved the court gossip; much of the tale is told in this way.  

Few reliable accounts about Catherine Howard exist, and if I sometimes thought that Ms Lawrence wrote her as more mature, analytical and intelligent than one imagines her, this all made sense in the notes about her at the back, where Ms Lawrence gives a highly convincing argument for the young Howard girl having far more savvy than history would have us believe - you've won me over to your way of thinking, Gemma!  If you already know the story of Catherine, it might make sense to read these first.

The novel tells us much about the lot of women in those days - even if rich, from a 'good' family and in possession of much beauty and intelligence, their lives were never their own, with their futures completely at the whim of men's wishes and politics.  Those who survived and gained some happiness were masters of the game, or simply those who were in the right place at the right time - but even clever souls like Anne Boleyn and Catherine could not get every move right.  Maybe the cleverest of all were those who understood their lot and didn't try to assert themselves - like Anne of Cleves.

This was a fine book, and I am already counting the days until the release of the second part. 

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