Not only is Helen Boyle the Editor of tBkmag, newbooks’ sister magazine for pre-teen readers, she somehow also finds the time to be a Commissioning Fiction Editor for Templar, a well-respected children’s publisher. And Helen it was who put a copy of VIII by HM Castor in my hands.
Though I say it myself, we have something of a Midas touch in picking Young Adult books for inclusion in newbooks – The Curious Incident, Gathering Light, How I Live Now, the very first Artemis Fowl and several others. And now I have my fingers crossed that we will be able to feature VIII in a future issue.
Young Adult is currently a thriving area of publishing, not least because the publisher has an eye on the chance of a teen crossover in the manner of a certain JK Rowling. Indeed, I suspect the HM of HM Castor suggests another author whose gender is being disguised from potential readers who would not willingly pick up a book by a female author. As they say, whatever . . .
VIII is very good and the blurb on the proof I’m reading doesn't lie when it says, ‘Does for Henry what Hilary Mantel did for Thomas Cromwell’. I admit I had to persevere with Wolf Hall but it was well worth it. Understandably, VIII isn’t as densely written and the language is more accessible, with a few modern day phrasings but the intention is to draw the reader in rather than frighten them off.
Beginning with a six-year-old Henry being rushed to safety in The Tower at dead of night we follow him into his teenage years as the second ‘spare’ son, until older brother Arthur dies and Catherine’s strategic value as the King of Spain’s daughter means that Henry marries his brother’s widow.
Action and miscarriages follow with bewildering speed so that you grasp the political import but are carried along by a cracking yarn well told. I’m racing towards the end now but one phrase struck me this morning as typical of the writer’s gentle but highly effective style:
‘Wolsey says, “It occurs to me there is a prize to be won here. Greater than we could ever have anticipated.”
[And Henry replies] “Don’t pause for dramatic effect. I’m not a congregation. Get on with it.”’
I’ll let you know if the ending doesn’t live up to what’s gone so far but there’s a sure authorial touch here and I’ll be surprised if it falters.