In England in 1542, Henry the VIII was king. He’d just executed his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. As self-proclaimed head of the Church of England, formed when he denounced the power of the Pope to say he couldn’t divorce his first wife, he had seized the assets of the Catholic churches and dissolved the monasteries and convents. While he made provisions for the care of the displaced monks and nuns, they remained under his authority. Catherine Haven, this books protagonist, found herself married and widowed by 1542 (this is the third book in a series- I need to find those, so I can find out how she got around the proscription against former nuns marrying), and is now serving in Anne of Cleves’s household; she is also pregnant by Benjamin Davies. Given Henry’s state of mind- of distrust of women in general- this could be disastrous. They cannot wed without Henry’s permission, and he is very apt not to give it. Catherine finds herself waiting for Benjamin, trying to hide her growing belly and wondering if they will manage to marry or if she’ll be punished for having sex, while taking care of Anne of Cleves’s household.
The past comes alive in this book. The minute details of everyday life are illuminated. The sights, sounds, and, yes, smells (not good) of living in those days are described vividly. The endless labor that was done if a person was not royal. The subservient position of women- Catherine’s barely teen son finds it his place to tell her mother how to behave. The fact that people’s lives depended on the king’s whim. This realism, and the tension, is the heart of the novel; the plot itself is fairly simple. Wait, then ride horses for days on end, hoping to outrun the King’s agents. It’s a good book, but it has the feel of a sort of ‘bridge’ from the second to the next one.
This book will not be released until September 29, 2015. It is not up on Amazon yet for preorder.