I adore Lucy Worsley’s historical television specials. I was in the middle of her series on the wives of Henry VIII when this book popped up on my radar. While it probably won’t grab your attention if you are expecting something as adult as the show The Tudors, I would have been pretty fascinated by it as a middle school reader.
In the vibrant, volatile court of Henry VIII, can even the most willful young woman direct her own fate and follow her heart in a world ruled by powerful men?
Clever, headstrong Elizabeth Rose Camperdowne knows her duty. As the sole heiress to an old but impoverished noble family, Eliza must marry a man of wealth and title — it’s the only fate for a girl of her standing. But when a surprising turn of events lands her in the royal court as a maid of honor to Anne of Cleves, Eliza is drawn into the dizzying, dangerous orbit of Henry the Eighth and struggles to distinguish friend from foe. Is her glamorous flirt of a cousin, Katherine Howard, an ally in this deceptive place, or is she Eliza’s worst enemy? And then there’s Ned Barsby, the king’s handsome page, who is entirely unsuitable for Eliza but impossible to ignore. British historian Lucy Worsley provides a vivid, romantic glimpse of the treachery, tragedy, and thrills of life in the Tudor court.
Eliza is plucky and smart and her narrative voice can speak to the modern girl without feeling out of place in her own time. Many of her struggles are universal to women of all eras, so she is easy to connect with. The details about everything from marriage contracts to cosmetics are well blended into the storyline and add the historical aspects without miring readers down. It is hard to write about this time in history without addressing infidelity and the rather icky bargains courtiers were willing to make for wealth or power. Nevertheless, it is handled fairly delicately. Themes of loyalty, friendship and looking to your own conscience add weight to the story line. All of this means that an older middle school student interested in the topic will probably enjoy the book. As an adult reader with some other books on the topic under my belt, I found this one a little dull. The ending was also hard for me to embrace, though it was the ending I wanted, because it seemed a little bit of the stretch for the character I’d come to know in the course of the story. In short, language, situations, and interest level are appropriate for the mature 7th grade and up set.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.