THE PLOT: ‘Katheryn Howard: The Tainted Queen’ is the fifth book in the ‘Six Tudor Queens’ series by Alison Weir. Starting with her mother’s death, it follows Katheryn’s tumultuous upbringing as she’s shunted between different family members. She ends up in the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s household at Lambeth with several other young ladies of good birth. But the Dowager Duchess is lax and the girls get caught up in the frivolity of youth and their budding sexuality. Much of the novel is about the consequences of Katheryn’s actions while living at Lambeth. But ultimately, it’s the story of a beautiful young girl’s coming of age – and the men who take advantage of her.
RATING: This whole series gets a four-star rating from me, so we should take that as a given. However, I was a tad disappointed because – when compared to the other queens in this series – I liked the portrayal of Katheryn Howard the least. Originally, I expected to sympathise with the young, beautiful Katheryn, but I found her characterization frustrating and wish Alison Weir had made her a more relatable character. That being said, it was a very entertaining book and I raced through it – faster than any of the other ones.
GOOD BITS: I read this book very quickly, which shows that the plot was absorbing. Information about Katheryn’s upbringing was new and exciting, and I enjoyed reading about the young ladies at Lambeth. I also think the fast pace shows that this novel is less bogged down in the detail and long lists of servants and courtiers than the previous books in the series. There was a core cast of six or seven people and the rest could be easily figured out without having to keep track of endless houses and names. I also liked the relationship between Henry VIII and Katheryn Howard, and how the author showed some real and deep affection between them.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: Katheryn Howard is often depicted as a silly little girl and I feel like Alison Weir doesn’t stray too far from this stereotypical portrayal. Although there is an underlying theme about women’s sexuality being policed, I’m not sure that was strong enough to break away from the traditional image of “flighty” Katheryn. [500-year-old spoiler alert] Additionally, I didn’t understand why Jane Rochford would take such risks and aid Katheryn’s affair when she had seen the downfall of Anne Boleyn first-hand. Although the historian in me accepts that we just don’t know why Jane did it, the writer in me wanted Alison Weir to create a fictionalized but realistic reason for Jane’s interference.
OVERALL: This was a good book that will make you think about historical and modern ideas of women’s sexuality. When you compare it to the rest of the series, it loses some of the grander, holistic information about the Tudor Court, but that means it gains a more pacy and fresh plot. You’ll want to pick up this series if you’re a fan of Hilary Mantel or Philippa Gregory.