This review appeared in nb65.
VIII is the story of the life of Henry VIII, starting from the age of 6 and marching at full speed towards his death. The book is written with a consistent tone from Henry’s viewpoint, which develops as he becomes more articulate, and also as he becomes more convinced of his own self-importance. This book is ideal for the mid to older teenage audience and is being marketed as a cross-over book. There are many teenage books which are longer than this one, which covers all 49 years in just 330 pages (proof copy), making VIII a more accessible read, though with serious enough issues not to make it a light read.
VIII achieves its fast pace and conciseness through leaving out large portions of time between events, focusing only on scenes which tell more about the mood of the time rather than describing each event specifically. Despite the female author, the writing feels very much oriented towards boys, which explains why they have shortened her name to just initials and surname – in true JK Rowling fashion. Unfortunately, this made me, as a teenage girl, feel that they were skipping over all the good bits! There are mentions of his feelings for the women in his life, but no real explanation for them, and the scenes of jousting, war and politics far outnumber those of romance, weddings and fatherhood. But then, perhaps this is just a reflection of his life and time. Though if that’s the case, I don’t think they really showed his life in full, purely through omission of any mention of his mistresses and illegitimate children.
Overall there is enough to keep some level of interest, and if I found myself becoming bored, I was soon enthralled again by the suggestions about Henry’s mental health, a theme that runs all the way through. I also enjoyed the ending, but I won’t spoil it for you…
I think this would work very well as a group read, as there are many controversial decisions made by Henry which can be discussed and a lot of it is open to interpretation, hopefully sparking a spirited debate within your book club.