This just isn't Katherine Parr's month, at least for me. After reading (or skimming) Her Royal Destiny, which did have the courtesy to advertise itself unashamedly as a bodice-ripper, I bought Carolly Erickson's second historical novel, The Last Wife of Henry VIII, this weekend.
The verdict? It's great historical fiction--if you don't know much about Katherine Parr.
Actually, this novel starts out very promisingly by getting the age of Katherine Parr's first husband right. (Erickson correctly depcits him as a young man, not as an old one.) From there, though, it's downhill. First there's the episode where Katherine Parr almost single-handedly quells the revolt in the North. ("'Here is the lady who saved the North for the crown,'" a pleased Henry VIII announces.) Then there's Katherine's sister-in-law, Anne Bourchier, who's tortured for heresy in front of Katherine and who dies of her injuries. I can't tell whether Erickson is confusing her with Anne Askew or is just taking wild poetic license; in any case, Anne Bourchier lived into Elizabeth I's reign and apparently died of old age. Finally, there's the dramatic ending, where poor Katherine gives birth during a siege, complete with cannon fire, while Thomas Seymour runs off.
Nary an author's note in sight.
Oh, and there's even shades of Braveheart: Henry VIII scares young Katherine by threatening to revive the droit de seigneur with her.
The sad thing is, Erickson writes quite well. Her characterizations are strong--I especially liked those of Katherine's wise-cracking brother and of her sweet-natured, bumbling second husband--and the novel's a page-turner. I would have enjoyed it thoroughly if I could have forgotten all I knew about Katherine Parr or if I didn't give a flip about historical accuracy.
Next on the reading list? I dunno, but I do have a copy of Prophecy for the Queen by Dilys Gater, which whatever its merits or demerits at least is in great big type.