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I bought this book as a speculative purchase; as far as I can tell there are no other novels by this author. At first I wondered if she was north American, but, apart from a few commonly made grammatical errors, the idiom & syntax are English. Indeed the writing style is not too bad, if a little breathless. I think it was the names of the characters which suggested north American rather than English. At first it trotted along reasonably well, however the plotlines are incredibly obvious & this started to be a bit irritating; (spoiler alert) it was clear that Perdita & Kit would become romantically involved from the moment they met, even though Perdita was, supposedly, in a strong relationship at that stage. The unravelling of that relationship is preposterous: the man with whom she has (apparently) been living is actually still married, living with his wife & "under cover" for the ridiculous secret service organisation which seeks the destruction of anyone who realises their (completely unimportant) "secret"! So, if one buys a book with the word "conspiracy" in the title one can be fairly sure what it will contain. The problem with most conspiracies, & this is no exception, is that they are generally so preposterous & unimportant. The premise of this book is that Henry VIII was a homicidal maniac (but didn't realise this because he had some condition which wiped his memory after each incident): Catherine Howard was a battered wife whom her relatives & friends removed from Henry's influence to save her life; she was pregnant twice, losing the first child to Henry's violence & giving birth to twins after she had left him (I suspect we will subsequently discover that the twins are the ancestors of at least Perdita & her sister, Piper, & probably Kit & his family as well); the same family & friends created a false history in which Catherine, Francis Dereham & Thomas Culpeper were executed when, in fact, others were executed in their stead & their identities eradicated; & a government funded secret service department (called, ludicrously, "MI1 Elite"!) seeks to protect this secret, by killing anybody who becomes aware of it. I disagree with the author that there is "so little evidence" regarding this period but, even if one were to accept some of the premise, it seems unnecessarily elaborate for the family & friends to concoct a story that Catherine had been executed for adultery & treason when death was common & they could simply have reported that she had died. As for the "secret" being protected for the best part of 500 years - one would wonder why anybody would bother. As the group protecting it is a government department this would require the acquiescence of successive governments (of various parties) to the expenditure; but to what purpose? I assume that the subsequent novels (as this is the first of a trilogy) will lead to the identification of the descendants of the twins (as I said, I suspect the central characters). Because Henry's son, Edward VI, died without children a case could be made, on the basis of entailed primogeniture, that any descendants of the male twin would have had a better claim to the English throne than Mary & Elizabeth. But 480 years after the event this would be little more than of (potential) academic interest; what is being suggested? that the British monarchy (as it is now) would be dismantled to introduce a "rightful" heir? It may be recalled that (Sir) Tony Robinson headed a TV programme which speculated that Edward IV was illegitimate, so not rightfully king, casting doubt on the claim of the Tudors (via his daughter) & found that the "rightful heir" to the throne is a woman called Barbara who lives in Australia! It may also be recalled that Tony Robinson has not been assassinated but actually received a knighthood since that programme aired (unless, of course, one is a real conspiracy theorist & sees that as the price of his silence! In which case no doubt they will be coming for me soon as I remember the programme!) Other reviewers have suggested that a good deal of historical research has gone into this book; that is not my impression. The author is a journalist rather than an historian & has, basically, made up a story which has so little credibility that she has to create a conspiracy to cover all the incredible angles! I found it a very silly book & will not bother with the other 2.
My thanks to Sapere Books for an eARC via NetGalley of this intriguing historical mystery in exchange for an honest review. It is Alexandra Walsh’s debut novel and the first in her Marquess House Trilogy. I have since purchased my own copy on Kindle.
Dr. Perdita Rivers is working on a archeological research project in Pembrokeshire when news of her grandmother’s death reaches her. Perdita and twin sister, Piper, have had no contact with Mary Fitzroy following the death of their mother when they were children. Mary had been a noted historian and apparently very wealthy. To their surprise the sisters are named as her sole heirs.
Perdita moves into Marquess House, Mary’s stately home with a long history including links with Anne Boleyn. Looking into Mary’s research she discovers an unfinished manuscript on the subject of Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth queen and uncovers a mystery.
The narrative is split between Perdita’s experiences in 2018 and Catherine’s story from 1539 when she joined the household of the new queen, Anne of Cleves. Like her cousin, Anne Boleyn, Catherine is quickly caught up in her family’s machinations.
I am so glad that I requested this as it combined my love of well-researched historical mysteries, of well thought out conspiracy thrillers, and of novels with dual timelines. I was completely hooked from the beginning and could hardly put it down.
With conspiracy thrillers there is always a need to suspend disbelief, which I had no problem doing here. In her Author’s Note Walsh makes it clear that her ‘what if?’ conspiracy is framed as far as possible with verifiable historical fact.
As this is the first in a trilogy it’s hard to judge in advance how it will progress. However, based on this first volume I feel quite confident and I am extremely excited for the next book in the series coming out later this year and further adventures with the sisters and their allies and adversaries.
Well done, Alexandra Walsh ... historical fiction of the highest order!
This book (part one of a trilogy), is another 'take' on Catherine Howard who I have always thought was a young flighty girl who Henry VIII used for a short time and then was dispatched to the executioner's block. Or was she?
This book tries brilliantly to debunk this theory using the dual timeline of Queen Catherine's reign (1539 to 1542 ish), and Dr Perdita Rivers who inherits a huge mansion in Pembrokeshire , Marquess House in 2018. The connection being in the archives of this house left to Perdita and her twin sister Piper. This estate was passed to these girls by their grandmother Mary Fitzroy. So, just by using these well known Tudor surnames the reader is drawn into Catherine's life at court. We have the aged, sick King, the manipulative Duke of Norfolk and the jealous Seymour family - all of which Ms Walsh describes excellently.
By getting to the possible truth of Catherine's demise, Perdita innocently puts herself in danger, and here I am going to say no more in order to not spoil the 2018 events, apart from saying it is well worth reading.
For Tudor history I have usually devoured the books by Alison Weir, but here we have Ms Walsh - with a well written, detailed and sometimes exciting book - entering the Tudor history writers domain with first class honours.
Thanks to Sapere and Net Galley for the chance to read and review this book.
Let me give you an insight to the type of dialogue which litters the whole book: “Do you remember Uncle John, who married our Mother, Anita’s sister, Aunty Joan whose next door neighbour Fred was engaged to Jean, the daughter of Bill who ran the Post Office?” Names have been changed to protect the innocent! But really, this kind of awkward, clunky, scene-setting dialogue is used all through the story and it just makes the cardboard cut-out characters even more unbelievable. No one speaks like that in everyday communication. The story itself is quite interesting, especially in the historical parts, but it descends into pantomime about two thirds of the way through with silly “Illuminati” type organisations and secret societies galore. The book has an open ending to make way for the sequel, but unless you’re a five year old, you’ve already guessed that the stupidly named twins “Perds” and “Pipes” (Really???) will turn out to be direct descendants of the secret twins born to Henry 8 and Catherine Howard. Yawn.
Buried in the mess of this book there is a mystery story about Catherine Howard that could have been quite interesting if narrated in a more skilful way. A scared young bride, wanting to escape a vicious bully of an older husband. But the narrative, particularly of the modern sections, is banal, and full of repetition and clichés: "It's like a fairy tale" ..."there's very little she doesn't know about the house..." ..."her chalk-white face" ..."she drank everything in..." "she itched to begin unpacking"..."a shiver ran down her spine" ..."What we have is worth fighting for"..."memories came flooding back" ..."the house felt strangely empty"... "he turned on his heel..." Basically the book is far too long, and needs to be edited down to half the present text. The modern bits are hardly worth reading. The protagonist reads her grandmother's history notes and this leads to a sort of quasi-academic theorizing about Catherine Howard's life and presumed death. But we don't need the theorizing. We don't need the story told twice. And the melodrama gets very tiresome - secret tunnels and a plot about the British Secret Service suppressing historical research and being out to murder people who Know Too Much. C'mon! The dialogue is trite and there is some bad grammar. "Equally as impressed" recurs several times. The author writes "Mary's loss" for "the loss of Mary" and "how she drew the conclusions she had used [?] in her books". When the narrative moves into the past, it improves somewhat in quality. Yet even in these sections on almost every page of the book, someone is described as "white-faced" or "ashen-faced". At one point we find "Framlington" instead of "Framlingham" and the author talks about "after banquet" as if it was "!after dinner". She makes mistakes in the use of titles, e.g. often calling Lady Margaret Douglas "Lady Douglas" or Anne of Cleves "Lady Cleves". It would be far better to just present this as a historical story and cut out the modern events, which are far from enthralling. I am certainly not going to order the sequel.
This is in many ways a great, and interesting, book. The author clearly has a good knowledge of Tudor history, customs and practice, and there's a lot of interesting but not over-forced detail about the period.
The basic premise of the book is that Catherine Howard was not really a young, silly, flighty and adulterous Queen who suffered at Henry VIII's tyrannical and deeply unpleasant hands. Instead, she was indeed very young, but was the victim of serious domestic violence at Henry's hands and rather than being executed, fled & was hidden by her Howard relations.
The plot of the book results from the death of a well-known historian, Mary, in her 80s. Her twin grand-daughters, Perdita and Piper, inherit a vast house, lots of money, and a fully-functioning and well-equipped historical research centre or too. P & P have been estranged from their maternal grandmother Mary since their mother's death when they were children, and as their father has also recently died, are hurt and bewildered by their lack of contact with Mary since the age of 8 or so.
The urgent basis of the plot, and the necessity of researching Catherine Howard, is provided by a sinister branch of the Secret Service. M11 is the latest in a long line of govt bodies dedicated to suppressing the truth about Catherine Howard, and the legitimate child she might have given birth to, the son or daughter of Henry VIII.
I fear that it is strongly hinted at, and the next book in the trilogy will be based upon, the premise that should a legitimate descendent of Catherine Howard & Henry VIII be alive to this day, that would make the current monarchy "wrong" and Elizabeth II not entitled to be the Queen.
This is where the author might err (if, indeed, the trilogy is going in the direction that I anticipate, namely that Perdita, the older of the twin heroines, is indeed going to be put forward as the "true Queen").
Firstly, it would be absolutely impossible to establish that a woman in 2018 was properly and legitimately through every generation descended from Henry VIII and Catherine Howard. But even supposing that there was indeed cast-iron proof that Perdita was the rightful descendent of Henry VIII, it wouldn't matter at all.
The Bill of Rights 1689 and, in particular, the Act of Succession 1701 set out in clear and absolute terms that, if the succession could not pass through the children or William and Mary, or Queen Anne, it would descend via Sophia, Electress of Hanover. A new discovery of a legitimate descent from Henry VIII would not have any effect on the legitimacy of the House of Windsor.
I really loved this book and would have given it five stars if it hadn't been for one, jarring, far-too-incredible part of the story. It was all going really well until the introduction of the totally stupid and utterly unbelievable MI1. I mean, really???? I just could not take them seriously and it spoilt the whole story for me. Apart from that, it is a wonderful tale and does make you wonder if all history is actually true or just what we are expected to believe. I look forward to the next in the trilogy but I do hope it takes up where this one finished . . . . .
I'm afraid I gave up on this about a third of the way through. I found the interpretation of the historical characters so widely at variance with what little we know about them that I couldn't keep going. The time slip was okay in itself and the house was nicely drawn but even here I just couldn't empathize with the protagonist. I hate giving negative reviews because the writer has done so much work, and I'm sure there are readers out there who will enjoy it, just not for me.
Having just read for review a novel about Katherine Howard written by an eminent writer, I came to this book. Both, of course, were excellent. I absolutely loved this book even though , in truth, as an Historian myself I do on the whole subscribe to the traditional history. Even so, it is not unknown as the writer points out, for History to be at least tweeked for political reasons and traditional histories should be challenged. I am a large fan of dual time novels which can be hard to write successfully . This one is structurally excellent and its twists and turns kept me guessing. I loved the characters and found it refreshing to see Katherine portrayed as an intelligent young women. Many of the points raised concerning her marriage to King Henry have preturbed me especially Jane Boleyn's role in Katherine's alleged affair with Culpepper. Importantly this writer knows her History before she begins to suggest an alternative narrative and presents her version as a pacy unputdownable thriller with an intriguing alternative outcome. I absolutely loved this novel and am about to download the next book in the Trilogy. It's a excellent idea superbly executed.
The author emphasizes that this is fiction and whilst at one level it is intriguing some of it is laughably farfetched. However, there is a true historical context and the part of the story set in the 1540 s is intriguing and conveys the fear and intrigue of court life well. On the minus side, I hate the names of the twins and the modern day characters are two dimensional. I also wish the author knew the difference between a kissing gate and a lych gate. Getting a coffin threw a kissing gate would be rather undignified especially one with a roof. I have rated this book high because I couldn't put it down!