Monday, 25 February 2013

VIII - guest review by Kate

VIII by H.M. Castor

VIII has been nominated for the Carnegie 2013 longlist. This review takes into consideration some of the judging criteria as used by Shadowing groups.
This review has been written by Kate (Year 9).

VIII is H.M. Castor’s newest book. It is the story of Henry VIII from childhood to his death at 55. It is fiction but well written and thoroughly enjoyable.

At the beginning of the book the reader is introduced to a few main characters: Henry, his mother, his grandmother, his father and his siblings. All the characters are very believable and the dynamic between the members of this family is very true to how any family behaves with one another. This is particularly well written because while the reader gets this dynamic there is definitely the sense of them being royal and going through the struggles that present themselves.
VIII by H.M. Castor
Throughout the book Henry slowly turns into the character that he is stereotyped as today: brutal, unforgiving, fat and ruthless. However, the ghostly figure that he sees presents the reader with one thought as to why his behaviour changes as it does. I think the relationship between Henry and this mysterious figure is probably the most important in the whole book because it is something that affects Henry massively throughout his life and reign as King. The figure becomes something he uses to measure how well he’s doing at ruling and is vital to his reign. The relationship between Henry and this figure does change through the story because while throughout the story he is scared of it, towards the end there seems to be some sort of acceptance of how it is part of him and his life. He has grown up with this ‘ghost’ and becomes accustomed to it.

All the conversations and interactions of the characters are very realistic and suit the time period. The language and actions of the characters are true to the time and work well with the relationships between the characters.

Most of the characters are quite likeable but there are moments when each character is disliked. However, through most of VIII even if you don’t like Henry, you often feel sympathy towards him.

The style of writing is easy to understand for any reader whether the reader commonly reads historical novels/non-fiction or not. The timing and setting of this story is very important because of the main characters. The plot starts to build up from the beginning but that is to be expected, as it is the story of Henry’s life. The action is however quite stable throughout the latter part of the book.

There is quite a bit of dialogue, but it’s appropriate as the story is about a person’s life. The characters’ interaction and the story development depend on the dialogue quite a bit and it works very well with the style of writing. There is however, an equal amount of description that balances the speech out nicely and it really immerses the reader within the book and creates a very clear picture in their head.

Personally I really like the style of writing because I read a lot of historical fiction but it depends what books the reader normally reads. Historical fiction is written in a specific style and takes some getting used to so if this is the first historical novel the reader reads, it will take a little bit of time to get into the style.

The story is told through Henry’s perspective the whole way through and this creates a very nice diary feel, moving the story along. Using this perspective Castor creates very effective atmospheres and emotions’ depending on how Henry is feeling which, again, immerses the reader. Using language and sentence structure itself the story is well-constructed and creates an obvious mood of fear in the reader.
The plot is quite easy to follow because of the way it is set up. Castor explains what’s happening at each stage through Henry and the language used makes it easy to understand.

At some stages in the story the reader can guess what’s going to happen next but there are also some surprising twists that are not expected. Mostly it is a story about a famous historical figure but it has a dark edge, which the reader hasn’t come across before. The sub-plot which is the dark edge is very important and ties in well with the main plot of Henry’s life.

Castor puts equal emphasis on the plot and the characters because the characters are so essential to the plot in historical novels. The characters make the story and because of that both are equally important in the book.

The ending is the obvious one at the end of a life-story, a death, but the ending of the dark twist within the plot is not one I was expecting. The ending does tie up all loose ends and is effective because it makes the reader want to carry on.

I did really enjoy VIII and found it very riveting. I think anyone with an interest in historical fiction about the Tudors could read this book but probably over the age of 12. At the end of the book I did really want to keep reading but the end did tie everything up nicely so it didn’t feel like I lost anything at the end. I would definitely recommend this book to others who like historical novels as a genre.

Reviewed by Kate, Year 9

Publication details: 2011, Templar, Surrey UK
This copy: received from the publisher for shadowing the Carnegie longlist



  1. I've been meaning to read this for a while and know that my library has it. Your review has inspired me to go find a copy and I'll definitely pick it up once I've read a few of my other books. Historical fiction is definitely one of my favourite genres, too, so that's definitely a bonus!

    I'm so glad that you enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing! :)

  2. This is a great review. Thoughtful and wise. Thank you ... you've persuaded me to read the book.

    1. Oo, I must bring your comment to Kate's attention, Candy. She'll be delighted with the praise. Kate, are you listening?!


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