From School Library Journal
Grade 8 Up—Beautiful Catherine Howard, 15, has attracted the attention of aging King Henry Tudor, who is becoming increasingly desperate for a son. His only son, Edward, is a sickly youngster, and Henry is worried about the succession. He has already rid himself of three wives and, now, he finds a way to dispense with his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, so he can marry Catherine. Catherine has been thrust before him by her powerful Howard relatives, and she knows that her role is to keep the king happy, but she has grown up in the morally lax household of her grandmother, the dowager Duchess of Norfolk, and she has secrets in her past that, if revealed, will ruin her. Told in Catherine's voice, the story gains real immediacy as she glories in the excitement and glamour of the court, but soon realizes that she is in great danger. Her love for young Thomas Culpepper overcomes her common sense, and their affair seals her doom. Period activities such as a bear-baiting contest are skillfully woven into the plot. The dowager Duchess and her accomplice, Lady Jane Rochford, are deliciously amoral in their relentless political scheming. One particularly effective scene has Catherine shocked at seeing a portrait of the youthful Henry and realizing how much he has deteriorated. While numerous sexual encounters are part of the political reality, they are subtly handled. A real treat for lovers of historical fiction.—Quinby Frank, Green Acres School, Rockville, MD
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Though well aware of her cousin Anne Boleyn’s fate only four years earlier, 15-year-old Catherine Howard acquiesces with her ambitious, conniving relatives’ plans and marries King Henry VIII. He calls her “my rose without a thorn,” but she is well aware of the thorny secrets she conceals: no virgin when she and the king married, she later begins a sexual liaison at court, partly in a desperate effort to produce an heir. Soon, Catherine begins a downward spiral toward madness and despair. An author’s note separates historical fact from conjecture in this account of Catherine’s short years as Henry’s “rose.” Libby offers a convincing, sympathetic portrayal of a young woman who relinquishes her hopes of marrying for love and finds herself doomed by her choices and deceptions. Hardly an active heroine, Catherine falls into a trap early on and, in the end, has little left but her dignity. This one’s for historical-fiction fans who will appreciate this character study of Henry’s fifth wife. Grades 8-11. --Carolyn Phelan
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