Book Review: “Of Blood Descended” by Steven Veerapen

60293344._SY475_The year is 1522, and London is in a jovial mood. King Henry VIII and his wife Catherine of Aragon are to play host to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V as he visits England. As one of King Henry VIII’s most loyal advisors, Cardinal Wolsey had the great honor of hosting a grand masque featuring King Arthur and the Black Knight for the distinguished company. Unfortunately, as preparations for the luxurious masque are in full swing, Wolsey’s historian is horrifically murdered. The only one who can solve the case is Anthony Blanke, the son of John Blanke, the trumpeter before the masque is ruined, and Henry VIII discovers the truth. The story of this case is told in Steven Veerapen’s latest novel, “Of Blood Descended.”

I want to thank Steven Veerapen for sending me a copy of his latest novel. I am always in the mood for a good Tudor mystery, and when I heard that the main character was the son of John Blanke, I was intrigued to see how Veerapen would portray his story.

Veerapen begins this novel by introducing Pietro Gonzaga, Cardinal Wolsey’s historian, and his family as Gonzaga is on the cusp of revolutionary discovery. We then cut to Anthony Blanke returning to London after his father, John Blanke’s death. He is reluctant to go back to court and all of its intrigues, but it is necessary as Cardinal Wolsey himself summoned him. Wolsey is hosting a grand masque in honor of King Henry VIII and the Imperial Emperor Charles V; the theme is King Arthur and the Black Knight, and he has decided to cast Anthony as the titular Black Knight.

Progress with the masque goes smoothly until someone discovers Signor Gonzaga’s body after being brutally slain. Gonzaga’s murder sets the stage for a whirlwind chase to find the murderer, but the monster leaves a trail of blood behind him, and no one is safe. The action, intrigue, and mysteries will keep you guessing until the final pages to figure out who the mastermind was behind it all.

I loved the mystery behind the murder and how Veerapen was able to weave the Arthurian legends and prophecies with the story of the Tudors. I enjoyed the cameos from Thomas Boleyn and Anne Boleyn, but my favorite cameo was Henry VIII’s historian Polydore Vergil, who does not appear that often in Tudor historical fiction. I thought Anthony was such a fascinating protagonist as he gave a different perspective on the diversity of London life. Even though characters like Anthony Blanke, Sister Jane, Mark Byfield, and Harry Gainsford are entirely fictional characters, they feel like they would fit exceptionally well in the Tudor world.

I thoroughly enjoyed every twist and turn that Veerapen included in this novel. I hope to see more stories with Anthony, Jane, Mark, and Harry. If you enjoy Tudor murder mysteries, you will be enthralled with “Of Blood Descended” by Steven Veerapen.

Book Review: “Wolf Hall Companion” by Lauren Mackay

52659696 (1)One of the most popular Tudor historical fiction series in recent memory has revolved around the enigmatic Thomas Cromwell. Of course, I am talking about the famous Wolf Hall trilogy by Dame Hilary Mantel. As many dive into this monumental series, certain questions arise. How true is Mantel’s portrayal of Cromwell and the court of Henry VIII during some of the most tumultuous times of his reign? What was life like for those who lived in privilege during Henry VIII’s reign? How did Cromwell rise to the pinnacle of power and why did he fall spectacularly? In Dr. Lauren Mackay’s third book, she takes up the monumental task of explaining to readers what is fact and what is fiction in Mantel’s series. Her book is aptly titled “Wolf Hall Companion”. 

I would like to thank Batsford Books and Net Galley for allowing me the opportunity to read and review this book. I will admit that I have not yet read the Wolf Hall trilogy, but this book might have convinced me to take up the challenge and read the trilogy soon.

Mackay starts this delightful book by exploring Thomas Cromwell’s origins and what his family life was like. To uncover the truth about Cromwell’s life, Mackay relies heavily on the behemoth biography of Cromwell written by Diarmaid MacCulloch, which makes perfect sense. She also looks into the lives of those who either influenced Cromwell or were affected by Cromwell’s decisions. People like Anne Boleyn and the entire Boleyn family, Cardinal Wolsey,  Katherine of Aragon, Thomas Cranmer, Anne of Cleves, and Stephen Gardner just to name a few. Mackay balances how Mantel portrays these figures in her novels with the facts that we know about them and the events from numerous sources. 

Mackay also tackles the aspects of the Tudor court and life that adds another layer of details for readers. Things like important holidays, how Henry VIII’s court was structured,  gentlemanly activities and sports, and the Renaissance and the Reformation. It breathes new life into the Tudor dynasty and the people who lived during this time. 

Mackay’s challenge is how to write a book that is just as engaging for the readers as Mantel’s trilogy while still being educational and informative while incorporating her feelings about these novels. It is not an easy task, but Mackay can take on this task and write a gorgeous companion piece, with exquisite woodcut images to follow the story of Thomas Cromwell’s life, his rise to power, and his downfall.

I found this companion book a sheer delight. A combination of being well-researched, bite-size biographies, and gorgeous woodcut illustrations make this book an absolute treat for fans of Wolf Hall and the Tudor dynasty alike. The way Mackay describes Mantel’s writing style and how she created her characters may not be the way I envision them, but that is the great thing about historical fiction. It can challenge your views about a person while still being entertaining. I wish more historical fiction series had companion books like this one. If you are a fan of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy or if you just love learning about the Tudor dynasty from a different point of view, you need to check out Lauren Mackay’s latest masterpiece, “Wolf Hall Companion”.

Book Review: “Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him” by Tracy Borman

40642324The story of the reign of King Henry VIII has been told mainly through his numerous marriages and through the lives of his children. Although his immediate family was a big part of his legacy, there is much more to his story than his tempestuous relationships. There were also his legal, religious, and military exploits. The ones who were with Henry when he made these decisions were the men who were loyal to him, his counselors and companions. Their tales are often told separately, until now. Tracy Borman has decided to masterfully combine their tales to explore the life of their infamous king in her latest biography, “Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him”. 

I have read plenty of books about Henry VIII’s wives and his children, but I haven’t read many books about the legendary man himself. I wanted a biography that explored the decisions he made in his life and the men who helped him along the way. That is exactly what Borman delivered in this biography that is bountiful with the information that it provides. 

Like any good biography, Borman begins by exploring Henry VIII’s birth and childhood. This is actually a significant time in his life and in the development of the future king of England. Growing up as the second son, Henry VIII was not destined to be king, but when his older brother Arthur tragically passed away, everything changed and Henry was thrust into a life of training to become king. He was constantly living in the shadow of his father and once he became king, he tried to outshine Henry VII.

Once he became king, Henry surrounded himself with men, both of royal birth and humble origins, to help run England. Some of the men that Borman included are Charles Brandon, Cardinal Wolsey, Sir Francis Bryan, Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Wroithesley, and Thomas Howard. Relatively familiar names for those who have studied the Tudors before and understand the significance of their roles in the Tudor court. However, Borman also includes the stories of men who did their best work on the sidelines, like the painters, diplomats, members of his inner circle, and doctors who saw all of Henry’s triumphs and failures. 

By highlighting the men that Borman did, she gives her audience a fresh perspective on such an infamous figure in history. He was a complex figure who could change his mind at a drop of the hat. These men knew how to navigate the dangerous situations that they were thrust into in order to make sure that their master’s orders were carried out. Of course, some went above the call of duty and others lost their lives to achieve their goals. 

This was the first book that I have read by Tracy Borman and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Her writing style was so engaging that I did not want this book to end. I thought I knew a lot about Henry VIII and his men, but “Henry VIII and the Men who Made Him” still provided new facts that surprised me. If you want to read a biography about Henry VIII that gives a fresh and innovative look into his life, I highly recommend you read this book.