Rating: 5 Stars
I CAN'T EVEN RIGHT NOW. THIS BOOK IS EVERYTHING AND I AM SO DISCOMBOBULATED THAT I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHERE MY THOUGHTS ARE OR WHAT I AM TRYING TO SAY.
That is how I felt in the ensuing hours after I finished DQC and even now, two days later, I am not sure I will do much better than I did then. I thought about writing the review in those hours after I finished the book, when all the feelings were raw and right at the surface. But I thought better of that and it is a good thing I did, seeing as how I am still pretty all over the place with this.
I know, I am also shocked. Not only did I read another YA that struck my fancy because it is about one of my favorite dysfunctional families, but I LOVED IT. LOVED IT. LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE.
My heart truly was actually racing as I neared the finale of the book. I had no idea how it would turn out for one character in particular, because of the end that her real-life counterpart met, but I was at least somewhat comforted by the fact that somehow, all of the others would come out on the other side.
I should back up a little bit though, and let anyone not familiar with the story know a little but more about it. Basically, what the author has done is taken all the drama from the lives of the six wives of Henry VIII, as well as the old grouch himself, and transplanted them smack-dab in modern-day high school. A recipe for disaster, right? There's no possible way that the complexities and seriousness of the that period can be properly conveyed in modern language with a bunch of teenagers, right?
WRONG WRONG WRONG.
Anyone who talks with me for five seconds about books knows that I have a very low regard for most (not all) historical fiction, especially when it strays too far off track and into the Twilight Zone (EVERYONE IS LOOKING AT YOU, PHILIPPA GREGORY. LITERALLY. EVERYONE.) I was hesitant to read this one only for the most fleeting of moments because I did not see how it could possibly end well, given the material, but I am so glad I went ahead and read it because...
IT IS FUCKING BEAUTIFUL.
It's also awful, because Henry is awful. But Parker and Jane and Lina and Cleves are not. And Katie. Sweet, naive Katie, who didn't deserve what happened to her - in real life or in the book. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Catherine Howard and her depiction here tugged at my heartstrings even more. The compassion she was shown, both by Cleves in particular and by the author in said depiction, I was so grateful for. I found that the author came to many of the same or similar conclusions as Gareth Russell did in his biography of Catherine, Young and Damned and Fair (which is also amazing and you should read ASAP).
While I am not typically a fan of historical fiction, I am also not a fan of revisionist history when it comes to certain topics/historical figures. BUT, this book really is neither of those things. It is literally these historical figures transplanted to the 21st century and made into teenagers and I'll be damned if it is not one of the most accurate depictions of the events, with a modern twist. I am not saying this in jest, the author truly did her research and managed to fit all those pieces of the puzzle from 500 years ago into a new frame. If you are well-versed in Tudor history, you will find endless Easter eggs, such as when one of the characters exaggerates that Lina and Henry were together for 25 years. We know, of course, that in reality Catherine of Aragon and Henry were married nearly 25 years. Also, Henry's football number was 8, and that's how he was referred to (though in the VIII form) as Parker, Cleves, Lina, Jane and Cat plotted to bring him down.
One of the things I loved most about this modern telling is how each woman was given her voice back. Even though we are viewing them with a modern lens, we see what they said or did, and why they may have acted as such. We see this even with Henry, in his charming, manipulative glory. Time and again we saw him spin his tangled web of lies to Cleves, making her doubt herself and those around her. One has to wonder if the real Anne of Cleves ever had thoughts such as those - though obviously she never would have voiced them, otherwise she might not have outlived all the others. Henry was exactly what you expected - intelligent, witty, charming. The way we imagine, and was more or less documented, the real Henry existed as, when he was young and newly crowned, a true Renaissance Prince. Long before the paranoia, rage and madness set in.
I appreciate the amount of research that went into this book. The author knows her stuff, really truly. It would be impossible to write this book without such a background. I also enjoyed the fact that all of the historical facts flowed with the narrative. It was not extra material that the author shoved in here and there, it was 100% a showing, not just a telling.
The only bit that was remotely jarring to me was some of the names. Eustace Chapuys was changed to Eustace Chapman (and a gossip columnist for the school newspaper at that, wink wink) but Hans Holbein (a photographer/artist) remained...Hans Holbein. And this is not even anything negative, or that I really had an issue with. It was just odd to see some names the same, but others marginally changed.
Just writing about the book has kind of made me emotional all over again. There is so much else I want to say, but I can't really do so without giving away key points. All I can say is this is a must-read - ESPECIALLY if you are a Tudor fan. You will not be disappointed.