A wickedly entertaining and utterly absorbing modern take on the life and marriages of Henry VIII…if he were a twenty-first-century womanizing media mogul rather than the king of England.
Master of the universe Harry Rose is head of the Rose Corporation, number eighteen on the Forbes rich list, and recently married to wife number six. But in 2018, his perfect world is about to come crashing to the ground. His business is in the spotlight–and not in a good way–and his love life is under scrutiny. Because behind a glittering curtain of lavish parties, gorgeous homes, and a media empire is a tale worthy of any tabloid. And Harry has a lot to account for. (From the book blurb)
Olivia Hayfield takes on the challenge of retelling the lifestory of one of the most powerful and notorious English monarchs- that of Henry VIII and his six wives. We’ve all heard about their fate: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived, but what would these marriages have beeen like if Henry Tudor was somehow reincarnated in our times? Would he have been able to get away with the way he treated the women in his life or would he have got his comeuppance?
There is no doubt the book is well-researched. Olivia Hayfield names Antonia Frazer and Alison Weir as well as a number of history websites among her sources of inspiration. There are also numerous pop culture references that help the reader get immersed in London in the 1980s and 1990s. It is clear that a lot of thought has gone into how to translate the historical context to make it both entertaining and relevant. For example, Henry’s obsession with begetting a male child and an heir to his kingdom or Henry beheading two of his spouses is impossible to recreate, so the author uses other plot devices: Katie Paragon (Catherine of Aragon) overcomes her severe depression exacerbated by miscarriages and stillbirths and becomes a fertility therapist; stylish Ana Lyebon (Ann Boleyn) is all about ambition and climbing the career ladder… Anki from Cleveland (Anne of Cleves) – I won’t spoil it for you, because the way Olivia Hayfield represented the fourth marriage is ingenious.
The charm of this book lies in discovering how the author reimagines the historical figures and what modern life circumstances she endows them with. Having said that, isn’t it why we love re-tellings in general? Safe in our knowledge of the general direction the story is going to take and the ending, we focus all our attention on the familiar characters in their new environment to see if they will follow their bookish /real life historical destiny or carve their own path. There is a fine line between staying too close to the original with the risk of being called unimaginative and veering so far that the story becomes unrecognizable.
The book is quite long with its 430 pages, but we are talking about a lifetime here, coupled with a very large cast of characters, so the length is quite justified. Similarly, the pace is a bit slow at times, picking up at others. Again, we have to remember that in real life the first marriage of Henry VIII lasted for twenty four years, while the following five marriages happened over fourteen years and ranged in length from three and a half years to six months.
Paradoxically, Henry VIII in his youth was considered handsome, intelligent and charismatic and only later became a ruthless tyrant and philanderer. Olivia Hayfield sets out to investigate why and whether things could have played out differently for him. The real life references the book abounds in extend to much further than just pop music and technology. They also include politics, economics (unemployment rate, the financial crisis of 2008, business asset stripping policies that devastated the north of England and many, many more). All of them mirror the external pressures Henry VIII must have faced in his times.
Olivia Hayfield gives her protagonist a chance for redemption, a chance to become a fair businessman and a doting father who values and cherishes all his children, male or female, and welcomes #MeToo movement.Whether he takes it or not, you can find out by reading Wife after Wife.
Overall, enjoyable, entertaining, recommended for fans of historical romantic fiction in general and Tudor times in particular.
Thank you to Edelweiss and Berkley for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.
- Do you enjoy modern day retellings of fairy-tales or famous historical events? What is the last one you read and really enjoyed?