The Catherine Howard Conspiracy – Alexandra Walsh – ARC Review

Title: The Catherine Howard Conspiracy
Author: Alexandra Walsh
Series: Marquess House #1
Genre: Historical Fiction
: March 28th, 2019 (Sapere Books)

Whitehall Palace, England, 1539
When Catherine Howard arrives at the court of King Henry VIII to be a maid of honour in the household of the new queen, Anne of Cleves, she has no idea of the fate that awaits her.
Catching the king’s fancy, she finds herself caught up in her uncle’s ambition to get a Howard heir to the throne.  Terrified by the ageing king after the fate that befell her cousin, Anne Boleyn, Catherine begins to fear for her life… 
Pembrokeshire, Wales, 2018 

Dr Perdita Rivers receives news of the death of her estranged grandmother, renowned Tudor historian Mary Fitzroy. Mary inexplicably cut all contact with Perdita and her twin sister, Piper, but she has left them Marquess House, her vast estate in Pembrokeshire.
Perdita sets out to unravel their grandmother’s motives for abandoning them, and is drawn into the mystery of an ancient document in the archives of Marquess House, a collection of letters and diaries claiming the records of Catherine Howard’s execution were falsified… 
What truths are hiding in Marquess House? What really happened to Catherine Howard? And how was Perdita’s grandmother connected to it all?

A huge thank you to NetGalley and Sapere Books for providing me with an ARC of this novel! I was on the hunt for some new historical fiction this past month and requested this on impulse – and it turned out to be a really good decision! A historical thriller with some Da Vinci Code style mystery, The Catherine Howard Conspiracy is a ‘what if’ novel, positing that the tale of Henry VIII’s fifth queen is not quite what it seems.

I’ve read my share of Tudor era historical fiction about the six wives of Henry VIII, and personally I’ve always found those revolving around Catherine Howard to be very sad. In every book I’ve read so far, Catherine Howard is portrayed in one of two fashions: as a silly child caught up in the pomp and grandeur of court, easily led astray or as a girl used as a pawn by her powerful family and manipulated in the games of powerful and dangerous men.

Walsh, however, lends Kitty Howard a unique voice, working around the commonly accepted facts regarding the reign of Henry’s fifth wife to weave a refreshing and sympathetic tale that, wonder of wonders, actually sounds like it might have a semi-happy ending for this unfortunate queen. As interesting as this twist on history was, it was even better to see it unfold from the present day viewpoint of Perdita Rivers. I am very fond of stories that run on parallel timelines as I’ve always found that the back and forth between the time periods provides a much better perspective to the tale. There are few things I enjoy more than a good mystery, and this had two! What caused Perdita’s grandmother, the historian Mary Fitzroy, to cut off contact all those years ago? And what really happened to Catherine Howard?

When it comes to the other characters, I have to say, the Tudor era characters were much better written than the modern day ones, possibly because the present characters were so completely focussed on unravelling Mary’s research that there didn’t seem to be adequate time for their own stories. Two Tudor era characters that surprised me most (apart from Catherine) were the Duke of Norfolk, whom I have always seen depicted as a figure who put ambition and power first, and Henry VIII himself, in the most unflattering and utterly horrifying portrayal I have yet to read. It was also really heartwarming to see Kitty’s family and friends rally around her when she needed it the most – again, something I’ve never really come across in any version of her story before this.

There were a few minor points I found a little annoying. The biggest reveal of the book was too easy to guess. With the amount of detail in the present day timeline, I had a good idea far too early and it reduced the suspense value towards the end. And speaking of the ending, there was way too much happening in the last part. The pacing was perfect up until then, and it wouldn’t have hurt to add a few more chapters to give the big reveal the page time it deserves. Still, this is a trilogy, and I’m sure the surprises are only beginning. I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series!

Alexandra Walsh’s take on Catherine Howard melds historical facts with some pretty realistic sounding and well thought-out fiction. Well researched and imaginative, this is a thrilling and thoroughly engrossing read that fans of Alison Weir and Philippa Gregory are sure to enjoy.

Other reviews in this series:
Book 2: The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy



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