Anderson, M.T., et. al. Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All. New York: Schwartz and Wade Books, 2018.
Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1524716196 | 396 pages | YA Historical Fiction
Fatal Throne is a book that excited my adolescent heart, since, years ago, I was fascinated with the Tudor period thanks to books set in the period by the likes of Carolyn Meyer and Kathryn Lasky, and eventually Jean Plaidy and Philippa Gregory, among others. But while some of these authors had devoted books to telling each of Henry VIII’s wives stories on their own, I had yet to find a work of historical fiction that tackled them simultaneously, with subsequent wives looking back on previous ones, and allowing the reader to do so as well, through reading them in sequence. Also, there had never been a book that I had read that attempted to bring out Henry’s voice in all of this. So while this book is neither earth-shattering nor controversial, I do feel this is a wonderful new addition to the breadth of Tudor fiction in existence.
Despite being written by seven authors and allowing each to craft a unique voice for their character, it still feels like a cohesive story, with the overlapping characters across POVs feeling consistent. I think my favorite parts, to my surprise, were from Henry’s perspective. While some of his thoughts are still incredibly reprehensible in a modern context, from the context of the times, I think Anderson captured a great balance between someone who is determined to see to the political preservation of his dynasty and is also motivated by matters of the heart as well, especially as it demonstrates how much Jane Seymour remained his favorite wife, even a decade after her passing and three wives on, which is historically documented.
I also like how each of the female authors worked to make each queen sympathetic and not confine them within the stereotypes applied to them by historians. While Hemphill’s Anne is spiteful and jealous, in these last days of her life, she shows a remarkable sense of repentance. Sandell’s Jane, too, despite being Henry’s favoritism of her, is dogged by a sense of guilt that she played even a small role in Anne’s downfall, which added some depth to her otherwise sweet nature. Hokinson masterfully crafts the way Kateryn must decide to “act like Jane” to evade the fate of Henry’s previous wives, being cast aside or executed.
Each of them felt real, and the book as a whole became much more than a story about the wives of Henry VIII, but about the gender politics of the time, with Henry’s endless quest for a male heir, and if possible spares, to secure his line, and his lack of belief in a womna’s capability to rule. Thus, it is fitting that, following Henry’s final declaration that his son Edward would be the great monarch he had foreseen, instead follows a brief passage depicting his daughter Elizabeth I in one of her greatest moments of glory as Queen of England.
I think this would be a great book for both history buffs and those new to historical fiction alike. It accomplishes the often-difficult feat of being well-researched and accurate in terms of its subject matter, while also being approachable and engaging.