A Crown of Despair
I was rather surprised to find myself enjoying this novel, as it is written in the first-person present tense, with multiple viewpoints – three things I generally dislike, especially in a historical novel, when it is well-nigh impossible to recreate period language and make it sound natural. However, Mandeville eschews period language yet makes modern idiom work as her characterisation is so well done.
The book tells the story of Katherine Parr’s courtship by and marriage to Henry VIII, capturing Henry’s vaingloriousness, Katherine’s fear of him and her desperation when faced with his proposal, Wriothesley’s (later 1st Earl of Southampton) ruthlessness, and Mary Tudor’s piety, although we are never privy to Katherine’s own true religious beliefs. The only aspect of the plot I did not completely believe was Katherine and Thomas Seymour’s love for each other, although it is well described.
The only other criticism I have is that due to the novel’s construction it is inevitably episodic, and there are aspects of the plot which are not followed up, but the historical detail is accurate and believable. Bookended by the author’s notes on the events of Katherine’s life which preceded and succeeded Katherine’s marriage to Henry, A Crown of Despair is an accomplished debut novel from Jenny Mandeville.