FATAL THRONE: THE WIVES OF HENRY VIII TELL ALL

Cindy: Lynn and I saw the large promo banner for Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All (2018) at ALA Midwinter and were eager to read it. Edited by Candace Fleming (The Family Romanov) and written by many of our favorite YA authors, the killer cover had our attention.

The structure the novel employs is equally alluring: six female authors (Jennifer Donnelly, Candace Fleming, Stephanie Hemphill, Deborah Hopkinson, Linda Sue Park, and Lisa Ann Sandell) tackle individually the voices of Henry VIII’s six wives. Between each of the wives’ narratives, Henry (M. T. Anderson) chimes in defensively (or as Jennifer Hubert at Reading Rants wrote, “arrogantly or peevishly”). A final, one-page, third-person account of Queen Elizabeth I, (Anderson again), wraps up the story. Back matter includes a Tudor Timeline, Who’s Who in the Court, and a bibliography for further Tudor nonfiction and fiction reading, viewing, and online exploration.

I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. I eagerly moved on from each queen to the next, fascinated to see how each subsequent author would approach her subject and how Henry would respond to or defend his actions. While 16th-century traditions are horrifying to the modern reader, some aspects of the period prove relatable: leaders who make decisions on a whim, double standards for men and women, and women who find the strength to face and to (sometimes) survive unimaginable circumstances. High school students who fondly remember reading Carolyn Meyer’s Young Royals series (Doomed Queen Anne) in middle school are a prime audience for this story, as are those who are currently streaming The Crown.

We came to this book from vastly different backgrounds. Lynn is a much stronger historian than I am, and when it comes to any royal history, I curtsy deeply to her superior knowledge. Take it away, Lynn.

Lynn: I loved the premise of this book and found its execution just as fascinating as I had hoped. Each first-person voice was enthralling, and I couldn’t wait to meet each successive queen. All of the sections were skillfully written, and the exploration of each woman’s efforts to navigate and survive—or not—their increasingly difficult situations absolutely irresistible.

A book written by several authors presents the challenge of creating a sense of cohesion. These writers met it admirably while still maintaining their unique approach and style. Having Henry’s version of each account tucked between the chapters was a brilliant touch, helping to unify the overall feel of the book. Further tying things together was each writer’s commitment to weaving historical and cultural background into the narrative. This is no small task when writing for young readers with little-to-no familiarity with Tudor history, its many personalities, its religious customs, its legal and cultural treatment of women, the queen’s court, and the ongoing power play of Henry’s court. The authors of Fatal Throne accomplished this extremely well without ever slowing the pace or reducing the undercurrent of suspense that ran throughout the book.

It was this “shiver factor” that also made the book such a treat to read. Somehow, the authors took existing historical events and created real suspense, even though I knew how it all turned out. Each writer gave me a delicious sense of doubt and unease—will this queen make it?

Readers will be attracted by the gorgeous cover and be hooked by the lusty and (ahem) heady story.

Cindy: Groan. Lynn, you’re (ahem) killing me. Fatal Thrones hooked me on Tudor history so much that I eagerly grabbed a new fiction galley at ALA: The 48 by Donna Hosie, which we mentioned in our recent ALA exhibit book awards post. This one is about teens who travel back in time to try to prevent Henry VIII from marrying Jane Seymour. It has a great cover, too. I’m headed down the royal rabbit hole, I fear.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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