Title: The King’s Rose
Author: Alisa M. Libby
ISBN: 9780525479703
Pages: 297 pages
Publisher/Date: Dutton Books, c2009.

I came to court last autumn to serve the new queen, and awaited her winter arrival with the rest of her ladies-in-waiting. But by early spring the gift of the sapphire made the focus of the king’s affection clear for all to see. At fifteen years old, I am on the brink of gaining great wealth and great privilege for my family. Or so I have been told. I had best act properly, I am often reminded, or else squander all of our chances. The king is forty-nine and not as well as he once was. Time is precious, fleeting. (5)

Abby Libby presents a fictionalized account of Catherine Howard in The King’s Rose. For those not familiar with the story, King Henry VIII is currently married to wife number four. But when he catches sight of fifteen year old Catherine Howard (cousin to wife number two Anne Boleyn), he promptly divorces his wife and weds Catherine. Catherine, however, is less than estatic, having been foisted on the king by her ambitious family instead of courting the man she actually loves. Court intrigue and politics make it dangerous for Catherine, who must produce an heir before the king looses interest in her or is convinced by his advisors to get rid of her.

Anyone who ever studied European History might remember “Henry the eighth had six wives, divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.” Through this rhyme, we know before chapter two that Catherine is destined for death. None of the marriages lasted any real length of time, except the first one. Libby uses the Thames River as a framing device for the story, forboding and forshadowing that the Thames is a “messenger of fortune, be it good or ill.” While the complicated history of the court is presented easily (especially considering several of the wives are named the same thing), there is less intrigue then is found in books like The Other Boleyn Girl. Maybe it’s done intentionally, but Catherine appears to me to be an airhead. She understands she needs to keep the king happy and produce an heir, but it’s through her family’s actions that she gains her position. Once she is married, it’s heartbreaking how naive she is, and how she’s left to navigate everything on her own, with criticism quicker then solutions. Even after she is locked in the tower, she still thinks her husband will save her.