As the bereft, orphaned cousin to the ill-fated Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard knows better than many the danger of being favored by the King. But she is a Howard, and therefore ambitious, so she assumes the role Henry VIII has assigned her-his untouched child bride, his adored fifth wife. But her innocence is imagined, the first of many lies she will have to tell to gain the throne. And the path that she will tread to do so is one fraught with the same dangers that cost Queen Anne her head.
Realistically I'd probably say 3.5 for this book. I liked it better than I expected based on the reviews I read, so I'm quite happy that I read it.
The character of Kathryn Howard in this book (author spelling of name, not mine!), was that of a girl who was taught nothing by a feckless father who preferred to gamble their money away, and a series of stepmothers who cared little for his numerous children. She knew nothing of what was happening at Court, not even that her cousin Anne Boleyn was becoming Queen. She was totally innocent, kind and easy to take advantage of and that is what her story is. A young girl used by men for their own purposes, used by her greedy family for advancement. I liked seeing this version of her instead of just the wanton slut who cheated on the King.
She goes to live with the Dowager Duchess as a charity case, sharing the maids chamber with other girls who are eager to take the advantages offered by the Duchess-free music and dance lessons to help them find a good husband. However, it leaves them free to learn other things, sneaking off to secret meetings with young men. The first to fall for Kathryn is her music teacher Henry Mannox. His sad and dramatic pleas of love gain Kathryn's sympathy and she reluctantly agrees to let him touch her to 'cure' him and stop his pain. Poor Kathryn ends up in an affair that she doesn't really want but refuses to let him have sex, aware of keeping pure for her husband. She soon realises that Mannox is obsessed with her and will never stop making sexual demands, and only the sudden intervention of the Duchess stops him from getting what he wants. Indeed, even when the affair ends, Kathryn's relief is short-lived as Mannox keeps talking about their fling and insisting she loves him and wants to marry him, a prospect that horrifies her.
Kathryn then meets dashing Francis Dereham, believing herself to be in love and accepting his proposal of betrothal. She is not really sure that they are really promised or married and wants everything to be legal but it doesn't stop her having sex with Francis. A jealous Mannox hears of these incidents and decides to tell the Duchess, who catches them together one night. Kathryn, after an angry Dereham insists she refuse a new match being negotiated, finally sees that Dereham is not the kind of man she wants to marry and is relieved when he leaves to seek his fortune to gain money to claim her. The Duchess, and the Duke of Norfolk however, have grand plans for Kathryn at Court and tell her to lie about Dereham and forget she is 'betrothed'.
Poor Kathryn really has no idea what her family are doing. She believes she is being sent to Court to serve the Queen while negotiations continue for a match with Thomas Culpepper. Instead her scheming family ensure that she is put close to the King who is displeased with new wife Anne of Cleves. King Henry is sad, lonely and feeling his age and Kathryn develops the same sympathy for him that she felt for Mannox. She knows she can make him happy and feel young again and she is reasonably happy with him, trying to get pregnant to secure her position as Queen and possible Regent when Henry dies. Happy, until she meets Thomas Culpepper and falls in love for real.
All Tudor fiction has a spin on the known story and this one is no different. Kathryn is very much a victim in this book, kept in the dark about life, men and pretty much everything, which leads her to make many mistakes. Her kind nature is exploited by Mannox, and Dereham sees her more as a trophy, rather than have feelings for her. We don't see much of Thomas Culpepper but he was probably cut from the same cloth as Dereham. I think the King was the only one who really loved Kathryn for herself. There are other interesting twists. Jane Boleyn becomes Kathryn's closest friend as they serve Anne of Cleves, Kathryn feeling sorry for the woman who has went mad with guilt over sending Anne and George Boleyn to the block. I liked the idea that Kathryn feared for her life if the King died without giving her a child and convinces herself that she could have sex with Thomas to get pregnant as he had the same colouring as Henry, then suffers the gult and fear afterwards.
However there are glaring errors which really annoy me and should be checked by the author. The author claims that Anne Boleyn loved and wished to marry the Duke of Suffolk which is NOT true. The Duke of Suffolk was Charles Brandon, Henry's closest friend who married Henry's sister Mary. Anne was in love with Henry Percy, who became Earl of Northumberland. It's a bit of a glaring error! In reality, a woman as mad as Jane Boleyn would've been sent to a nunnery or institution, not sent to serve the Queen but it was an interesting storyline so I can forgive that one.
Overall I liked the way the author took the story of a cheating wife and made you think why she might have taken the risk. It's nice to see something a bit different but something that stays close to accepted facts. I liked Kathryn in this book and had sympathy for her being used all the time. It was a decent Tudor read and I would consider other Tudor books if the author has written any.