The King's Rose: a review

The King’s Rose by Alisa M. Libby is a novel about English king Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard. Her exact date of birth is unknown, but she was a teenager — only fifteen, according to this book — when she married the aging king.

The book starts shortly before Catherine’s marriage to the king. The details of his past, and Catherine’s, are revealed gradually, making the story suspenseful even if you already know all about Henry and his wives.

Libby does an excellent job of portraying the gulf between the powerful, proud king and his young bride. Catherine is awed by Henry and never really gets to know him because he won’t let her.

To his court, King Henry is a powerful monarch, stalwart and sturdy, draped in magnificent jewels. Now I’ve glimpsed the old man hiding behind the robes of state, and I know more than is safe to know about a king, let alone to  put into words.

The king thinks Catherine is pure and innocent, but she has a sexual past that soon comes back to haunt her. She is also haunted by the memory of her cousin Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife, who was executed on charges of adultery, but that doesn’t stop Catherine from cheating on the king, sealing her own tragic fate. The author makes you feel sorry for the self-deluded, romantic girl who doesn’t understand how recklessly she is behaving until it is too late.

This is being marketed as a young adult (teen) book, but I don’t see anything that separates it from an adult book. There’s nothing very explicit in it, but it is frank. If you don’t want your daughter reading about premarital sex, impotence, adultery, and execution (not to mention Anne Boleyn’s scary ghost), don’t give her this book. Maybe read it yourself instead.

It’s well-written and fast-paced, with lots of great lines and insights. I enjoyed it, and after reading it I’ll always look at Catherine Howard more sympathetically.

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