No Will But His by Sarah A. Hoyt

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “Her name was Kathryn Howard. Orphaned at a young age, a poor relation in a wealthy and powerful family, she was raised in obscurity. Then she came to court and caught the eye of the aging King Henry VIII. As cousin to Henry’s second wife, the ill-fated Anne Boleyn, Kathryn knows better than most the danger of being favoured by the King. Yet she is a Howard, and ambition is as natural to her as breathing. So she assumes the role that Henry assigns her – his rose without a thorn; his young, untouched child bride; his adored, and adoring, fifth wife. But it is all untrue. Passion runs as deep as ambition in the Howards, and Kathryn is no stranger to a lover’s embrace. It is only the first of many lies she will have to tell to gain the throne  – and keep it. Yet the path that she will tread to do so is one fraught with the same dangers that cost Queen Anne her head….”

REVIEW: There are few authors out there who choose to focus on Kathryn Howard, probably due to the reputation she has of being a pretty but stupid young girl who took foolish risks despite her place on the throne. I have always viewed Kathryn Howard far more sympathetically than this, and Hoyt seems to share this sympathy. Her portrayal of Kathryn is both sensitive and new, giving the young Queen a mind of her own and a spirit that links in with what we as historians already know about the personalities of the great Howard family. Although they make Kathryn look extremely naive, Hoyt’s portrayal of her relationships with Henry Manox and Francis Dereham in her youth give the reader a strong sense of Kathryn’s vulnerability and of the little choice she faced in being a pawn of her far more wise and powerful guardians. They are also much more believeable than other versions I have read of Kathryn’s relationships with Manox and Dereham, and this part of the novel was one I thoroughly enjoyed. Hoyt’s portrayal of Kathryn’s accidental wooing of Henry, and her growing friendship with the demented Jane Rochford, were also very well-written and completely believable. However, there were some things about the book that I did not enjoy quite so much. One of these was the author’s attempt to use early modern English in the speaking patterns of all the characters. Despite this being a refreshing change for a historical fiction work, as it is usually avoided, Hoyt did not manage to do this successfully enough to make it work. The use of this form of language made the speech seem stilted, and as it was often infused with modern colloquialisms it was not successfully carried off, though as I say I do admire Hoyt for attempting it. I also felt that the final part of the book, the most famous part of Kathryn’s story, was rushed and poorly explained, which made it a far less emotional scene for the reader. Kathryn’s affair with Thomas Culpepper is not well-thought out, as the prologue suggests, but instead is hurried into in a way that even the most clueless of historical readers can see would have been simply foolish. Kathryn’s arrest and execution take up a mere few pages and are not, in my opinion, given the depth and justice that they deserve. Therefore, while I admire Hoyt’s characterisation of Kathryn, which was possibly the closest portrayal to my imaginings that I have read, I felt that in some places the tale was clumsily told and perhaps might have benefitted from further editing.

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