VIII by H.M. Castor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Sometimes it’s fun to go in a bit blind to a book, to pick it up solely because you’ve heard it mentioned by somebody, or you’ve read something about it, but can’t quite remember what it was and where you saw it.
Sometimes that blindness, that unsullied knowledge of what is to come, gives you joys such as VII and oh, I swallowed it whole. VIII is a powerful, tight and vicious story which focuses on how Henry VIII became Henry VIII.
Sometimes authors who work in historical fiction can get dwarfed by their context and throw in details and research that drown the characters out. There’s a lot of white noise, and if I’m honest, I find that intimidating. Somebody like Antonia Fraser balances that perfectly in her Marie Antoinette: The Journey. History is, at its heart, about people and how they lived in their extraordinary times.
And now I’m fully, fully committed to reading everything HM Castor does, because in VIII she gives us the story of a person. She fleshes that out, of course, with his context but she does not do that to the detriment of Hal. He is written full and fat with heart-catching detail.
A twisted, pained and world-ruined person is this Hal. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and the crown on his head weighs deep. Haunted from a young age by visions of a mysterious dark visions, he is slowly and inevitably shaped towards being the king who married and destroyed lives with a painful ease.
But the thing is, even with the inevitability of the ending. Caster makes us root and love this guy, this foolish misunderstood child who suffers and can never, quite understand the world he lives in.
It’s quite the achievement. Read this book greedily and selfishly because it is one to wallow in.