No Will but His
Of all Henry VIII’s wives, perhaps none is so equally dismissed and pitied as Katherine Howard, the child bride executed for her indiscretion. In her new novel, Sarah Hoyt revisits the notion that, rather than a vacuous nymphet or lovesick teenager, Katherine was an uneducated but world-wise girl who did what she had to in order to survive. Fate plays a large role in the novel—it plucks Katherine from her siblings and deposits her in the Duchess of Norfolk’s dormitory of damsels gone wild; it teaches her harsh lessons about the difference between love and lust; and it raises her from obscurity to the bedroom of the king, who in his own way is as love-starved and unlucky as Katherine. Finally, the first man fate brought into her life is destined to enter it again, this time with disastrous results.
Before her marriage Katherine is a passive character, naïve, gullible, and often clueless; but when Henry proposes to her she becomes a woman of the world, jaded, cynical, determined to outsmart fate and control her own destiny. The transformation is a bit jarring, but her fondness for Henry is convincing and quite sweet. The historical detail is well done throughout, and the timeline feels thoroughly researched but for a few mythic elements added for romantic effect. Hoyt’s Katherine is neither tramp nor ingénue but a former country bumpkin doing what she must to get by in a man’s world. Whether that argument succeeds is up to the reader, but No Will But His stands as a romantic tragedy of an ill-fated girl who rose to the greatest height and fell just as dramatically.