Teen crossover to watch out for

Posted by Guy Pringle, 4th May 2011

Not only is Helen Boyle the Editor of tBkmag, newbooks’ sister magazine for pre-teen readers, she somehow also finds the time to be a Commissioning Fiction Editor for Templar, a well-respected children’s publisher. And Helen it was who put a copy of VIII by HM Castor in my hands.


Though I say it myself, we have something of a Midas touch in picking Young Adult books for inclusion in newbooks – The Curious Incident, Gathering Light, How I Live Now, the very first Artemis Fowl and several others. And now I have my fingers crossed that we will be able to feature VIII in a future issue.


Young Adult is currently a thriving area of publishing, not least because the publisher has an eye on the chance of a teen crossover in the manner of a certain JK Rowling. Indeed, I suspect the HM of HM Castor suggests another author whose gender is being disguised from potential readers who would not willingly pick up a book by a female author. As they say, whatever . . .


VIII is very good and the blurb on the proof I’m reading doesn't lie when it says, ‘Does for Henry what Hilary Mantel did for Thomas Cromwell’. I admit I had to persevere with Wolf Hall but it was well worth it. Understandably, VIII isn’t as densely written and the language is more accessible, with a few modern day phrasings but the intention is to draw the reader in rather than frighten them off.


Beginning with a six-year-old Henry being rushed to safety in The Tower at dead of night we follow him into his teenage years as the second ‘spare’ son, until older brother Arthur dies and Catherine’s strategic value as the King of Spain’s daughter means that Henry marries his brother’s widow.


Action and miscarriages follow with bewildering speed so that you grasp the political import but are carried along by a cracking yarn well told. I’m racing towards the end now but one phrase struck me this morning as typical of the writer’s gentle but highly effective style:

‘Wolsey says, “It occurs to me there is a prize to be won here. Greater than we could ever have anticipated.”

[And Henry replies] “Don’t pause for dramatic effect. I’m not a congregation. Get on with it.”’


I’ll let you know if the ending doesn’t live up to what’s gone so far but there’s a sure authorial touch here and I’ll be surprised if it falters.


keith smith said...

This is by far the most enjoyable book I have read for a long time. The publishers say it is for the crossover market ie teens to adult, and it would certainly please either teen or adult. It is in essence the life of Henry VIII as seen through his eyes. That is twist enough, but the fact that he is haunted by his family history makes this a visceral and gripping story indeed. ‘Surprisingly scary’ Charlie Higson called it. He is certainly right.

The fact that Harriet is what I call a proper historian, as opposed to some of our historical fiction writers, guarantees that everything is plausible, and the research that has gone into this story is vast. No detail is too unimportant for her to investigate and get right. This makes it so much more enjoyable to read. It fairly zips along too with very short chapters, a difficult thing to get right but working tremendously well here.

With just as much research going into the psychological side of things – Harriet made extensive use of a psychotherapist, a Jungian analyst, and much background reading in those dark arts – you find yourself deep inside Henry’s head and thoughts, and an amazing experience it is too.

With a striking cover and an excellent price point you won’t find better value anywhere this year. I’d like everyone to read it. It is so good.

Posted on Mon 12 Sep 2011 @ 08:36

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