The country of Talia, where the Stravaganza novels are set, is an Italy of a parallel dimension, in the sixteenth century. It is just a bit over the top – more Italian even than Italy, which is how my oldest daughter says I see that country.

 

The idea for the series, which I first had when my daughters were teens, was originally for a trilogy. But there are at least six books in the sequence now and might one day be more: there are twelve city-states in Talia and each has its own story.

City of Masks (2002) Read sample | Buy from Amazon (hbk) Buy from Amazon (pbk)
City of Stars (2003)
Read sample | Buy from Amazon (hbk) Buy from Amazon (pbk)

City of Flowers (2005) Read sample | Buy from Amazon (hbk) Buy from Amazon (pbk)

City of Secrets (2008) Read sample | Buy from Amazon

City of Ships (2010) Read sample | Buy from Amazon

City of Swords (2012) Read sample | Buy from Amazon (hbk) Buy from Amazon (pbk) Buy from Amazon (ebook)

 

Stravaganza: City of Ships was nominated for the Carnegie Medal.

The books are now published by Bloomsbury as paperback originals in the UK and as hardbacks in the USA. Every time a new book comes out I write a new story for the Stravaganza website and bring the site up to date.

 

You can email Bloomsbury to ask for a Stravaganza leaflet and bookmark.


If you use Facebook, you can visit the Stravaganza page and Luciano and Arianna.

Fanfiction.net now has a Stravaganza thread. Please do read it and write some of your own. There's also a lot about Stravaganza on Chronicles network.

 

To find out about the possibility of more Stravaganza books or a film, check FAQs.

This tells the story of the young man who modelled for the famous statue of Michelangelo’s David which you can see in the Accademia in Florence. Nothing is known about him or even if he did exist – Michelangelo might have just used his imagination. What an opportunity for a novelist!

Published by Bloomsbury (2011)

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My Blog Tour for David began on 4th July 2011 and ran right through to 4th August. There is lots of extra information in the posts.

 

David blog tour

This tells the story of Elinor a young girl in 13th century France who has a crush on Bertran, a troubadour who visits her family's castle. But he is not a suitable prospect, not because he is older than her but because of his secret religion. Bertran is a Cathar and after he witnesses a brutal murder of the Pope's legate he has to go on the run. The Pope launches the Albingensian Crusade and Elinor's life changes for ever.

 

Shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards

Published by Bloomsbury (2009)

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There is also an audiobook of Troubadour read by Jilly Bond from BBC books. Buy from AudioGo

Silvano is sixteen, with the world at his feet. He is handsome, rich and in love. But one summer's night in 1316, his beloved's husband is found stabbed - and Silvano's dagger is found in the body. There is nothing for it but for him to flee his native city of Perugia and take sanctuary in a house of friars not far from Assisi.

Meanwhile, a beautiful young novice called Chiara has entered the neighbouring convent. She has no vocation to be a nun but has been dumped there by her brother because there is not enough money to give her a good dowry and find her a good husband.

Soon after Silvano's arrival there is another murder, this time at the friary, and suspicion falls on him again. Life would be bleak if it were not for his work with Brother Anselmo in the Colour Room, grinding pigments for the artists at work on the great Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi. Chiara is doing similar work next door and the two young people meet when they take colours to Simone Martini who is painting a magnificent fresco-cycle on the life of Martin, the knight who became a saint.

 

Silvano, Chiara, Anselmo and Simone combine forces to try and discover the true murderer, as more lives are lost and the friary becomes a place of fear.
 

I loved writing this book! It took a lot of research - on painting techniques, life in mediaeval Umbria, falconry, Saint Francis and the lives of nuns and friars - but it was hugely enjoyable. I travelled to Assisi, Gubbio and Perugia, where the story takes place (although I invented Giardinetto, where the friary and convent are). And I as many books and articles and consulted as many experts as I could find.

There are five murders in the book (more or less!) and at least three love stories. And of course there is Silvano's falcon, Celeste.

But what really drew me to the possibility of creating this mixture of murder, history and romance, was the chance to write about my favourite painter, Simone Martini. He lived in Siena but became so famous in his time that he was invited to paint commissions not only in Assisi but also in places as far afield as Avignon in France, where the Pope was based in 1316. He was made a knight a year later.

 

And I have always loved the names for colours: azurite, terra verde, orpiment, realgar and the wonderful ultramarine - blue from beyond the sea.

So, researching and writing The Falconer's Knot was a real pleasure. I hope it will be one to read it too.

Shortlisted for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize

Selected as one of 40 books on USBBY's list of Outstanding International Books for 2008. (USBBY is the United States Board on Books for Young People)

Nominated for the Malice Domestic Agatha Award for the best novel in the children's/young adult category.

French translation, Rouge Crime, won the Prix Polar Jeunesse 2009.

Published by Bloomsbury UK and Bloomsbury USA April 2007

Published in Germany by Bertelsmann, Holland by Unieboek, Denmark by Sesam, France by Flammarion, Japan by Shogakukan, Poland by Dolnoslaskie and Sweden by Alfabeta.

Buy from Amazon (hbk)
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City of Masks

The book teems with operatic intrigue, murder, masks, mortality and love. A deftly handled novel with constantly shifting images.

I can only say that I wish I’d thought of it first.

Linda Newbery, TES Teacher, 2002

Hoffman has created a viable alternative world with a Venice that is not quite Venice but that still retains all the romance associated with exquisite masquerades and court politics.

Bulletin of the centre for children’s books, 2002

....one of the most exciting adventures I’ve read in years.

Wendy Cooling, The Children’s Bookseller, 2002

This is a highly entertaining, full-blooded fare for readers who love a drama. Hoffman builds a complex narrative framework for her involved and involving plot, but includes space for genuine emotional engagement with characters at both ends of the timeline.

The Guardian, 2002

This competent time-travel-alternate-world novel scores high marks for world building.

VOYA, 2002

City of Stars

…storytellling at its best.

The Bookseller, 2003

This is a children’s book… but I defy anyone not to get hooked on it.

Daily Express, 2005

City of Flowers

I was barely allowed to finish it before my god-daughter snatched it away with breathless excitement. “It’s all so real!” she drooled.

The Independent, 2005

…the consistently interesting and versatile Hoffman has caught up all the threads from her first two books to weave a baroque thriller about art, murder, love and family, and does not descend into escapism.

The Times, 2005

The novel is a rollercoaster of a ride through the perfume and poison making of the city, to the plots and political marriages of the rulers. The sword fighting seems very realistic and the resultant slaughter appropriate for the 16th century. Talia is unforgettable – these novels, and particularly this third volume, are written with huge imagination, obviously based on meticulous research.

School Librarian, 2005

City of Secrets

This is the fourth book in a series that has already attracted great praise in these pages – ‘impossible to put down’, ‘An absolute triumph’ – all of which holds true for City of Secrets. I hadn’t read the previous books but, like Hoffman’s new hero, I found myself immediately transported into the fantastic parallel world of Renaissance Italy and couldn’t wait to get back to it every night.

Dyslexic Matt has just turned seventeen when he discovers, like fellow pupils before him, that he is a Stravagante and can travel betwen the modern world and sixteenth-century Padavia (Padua). There he is apprenticed to Professor Constantin in the University Scriptorium, printing radical texts and books of spells.

He meets the eccentric Elizabethan Englishman, Dr Dethridge, and is befriended by Luciano – a young nobleman destined to marry the duchess Arianna but forced into hiding after killing one of the powerful di Chimici clan. The vengeful di Chimici are also set on stamping out all unorthodox practices and these are dangerous times for anyone associated with the world of magic.

If that were not enough, back home Matt is also on the verge of losing hs girlfriend! The dual life conceit is elaborately and ingeniously executed but it is the Talian world that really enthrals. This is the world of Shakespearean tragedy, brilliantly imagined, rich in period detail and peipled with a wonderful cast of characters. A celebration of Italian Renaissance culture and the power of the printed book, City of Secrets is a thrilling read and an exciting addition to an acclaimed fantasy series.

Adam Sherratt, School Librarian 56-3, Autumn 2008

City of Ships

I suppose we all want to be one of those teenagers in Barnsbury. The one who thought they were nothing special, who wakes up somewhere very strange one morning, and discovers they are very special indeed. A whole new life in Talia, four hundred years ago, and with an important role to play in Talia’s history.

The Bookwitch | Read more
 

This is a breathtaking time-travel story to a parallel world that’s packed with non-stop action, pirates and drama. It’s the fifth in the Stravaganza sequence and it will electrify and delight. Intrigue, adventure, magic and excitement are the trademark ingredients for this series and for those new to it it’s not absolutely essential to read the first four particularly as the author, Mary Hoffman has very kindly provided a snapshot of the story to date.

Julia Eccleshare, LoveReading4kids

City of Swords

Intrigue, adventure, magic and excitement are the trademark ingredients for this series and this, the sixth in the Stravaganza series is no exception. Join Laura who with her talisman, a small silver dagger travels through time and space to sixteenth-century Italy for the heart-stopping conclusion to this magical sequence.  It's a thrilling tale filled with battles on the field and battles of the heart which finishes with a long-awaited wedding between two much-loved characters.

Julia Eccleshare, LoveReading4Kids

 

City of Swords is a very satisfying conclusion to what has been a thoroughly enjoyable and original sequence, involving time travel, an alternate renaissance Italy, and a plucky bunch of British teenagers with recognisable preoccupations. There are many fantasy sequences in the teen and young adult markets, but this one really has made its mark.

Bookbag

Stravaganza series

David

On this page you can find out about the Stravaganza series, and about the historical novels  and two early books, Special Powers and White Magic.

> reviews

teen books

Hoffman has written an enthralling and well-paced tale whose conclusion is at once unexpected, poignant and satisfying.

The Guardian (Linda Buckley-Archer, author of the Timequake Trilogy) | Read more


 

Well researched and rivetingly readable, this runaway bride makes the perfect read for the end of the summer holidays.

 

The Times (Amanda Craig) | Read more

I couldn’t help thinking while reading Troubadour that it might be
Mary Hoffman’s best book. So far.

Bookwitch (Ann Giles) | Read more

Hoffman relates the tale with a wealth of historical detail and frequently shifting points of view.

 

Write Away (Marie-Louise Jensen) | Read more

Mary Hoffman is to be congratulated for tackling this challenging period and bringing it to life for confident readers, teens and adults alike. Troubadour is a novel on an epic scale, juggling the Albigensian Crusade and its background, bloody battles and reprisals, aspects of courtly love, troubadours and Cathars, the feudal system along with Elinor's search for her place in the world. Elinor is a lively and engaging heroine, but Hoffman skilfully avoids making her an anachronistic, feisty miss, more suited to teen chicklit.

Bookbag

Troubadour by Mary Hoffman (Bloomsbury) is another book by someone who is careful with her historical research. Her story of Elinor, a young woman living at the time of the Cathars in the Languedoc, is full of vivid detail about religious disputes which descend into bloody and terrible war and also about the culture of those days. There’s a glossary at the back which is most helpful and in Elinor, her brave,resourceful and talented heroine, she’s given readers a fascinating insight into the world of women in the 13th century.

Adèle Geras

Here is a lovely five-star review of the French translation of Troubadour. It is in French, naturally, so I hope some of you can read it!

> reviews

Mary Hoffman captures all the energy and excitement of the Italian Renaissance as she brings Michelangelo’s David down from his pedestal to walk the streets of Florence as a flesh-and-blood stonemason. A thrilling story of dangerous rivalries in art, love and politics, with one of the world’s greatest masterpieces at its heart.

Ross King

Highly recommended for all teen fans of historical fiction.

Bookbag | Read more

For me it is Mary Hoffman's most accomplished novel to date.

Guardian | Read more

'David' is a wonderful historical novel which powerfully evokes another time and place.

The Awfully Big Blog Adventure | Read more

Troubadour

> reviews

The Falconer's Knot

Nobleman Silvano is accused of murder and given sanctuary in a friary. Lacking a dowry, beautiful Chiara is placed in a nearby convent by her brother. In this engaging medieval murder mystery, the two young people meet and learn a great deal about life and love.

School Library Journal - USBBY report

Mary Hoffman's medieval murder mystery has all the elements needed to weave a satisfying web of intrigue, tinged with religion and high art. This is a pacy and highly enjoyable read. Each character has his or her role to play and does so with gusto, from the plump and ambitious sheep farmer's widow to the formidable Minister General who turns up at the monastery to get to the bottom of the mortal sin being committed there. Hoffman handles the drama with admirable skill. … there is a freshness of perspective and intricacy of plot that lift the story above the obvious or crass.

The Guardian - Diane Samuels | Read more

A Story of Friars, Flirtation and Foul Play
Hoffman (the Stravaganza series) once again whisks readers off to Italy , this time in the 14th century, for this highly entertaining mystery-farce hybrid. Readers can pick up clues from the third-person narrative that alternates among the four main characters.   ...    As the solution surfaces, so do the true loves of the main characters. Even though many readers will guess where the plot is headed, the pleasure is in the journey.

Publishers Weekly

Hoffman set her acclaimed Stravaganza novels in an alternate world that resembled sixteenth-century Italy.  In this suspenseful mystery, Hoffman leaves the alternate worlds behind and sets her story directly within the real-world history of fourteenth-century Umbria.    ...   The publisher has compared this novel to Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose , and there are certainly similarities between the books' Friary settings and central mysteries.  Hoffman makes the story her own with an exciting tangle of murder suspects and romantic intrigues.   The plot is crowded with characters and the intricate details about pigment preparation and fourteenth-century art and life will slow some readers and fascinate others.  Hoffman creates utterly engaging characters and vivid settings, and she skillfully turns up the suspense, wrapping her varied plot threads into a satisfying whole.  Readers will race through to the satisfying, fairy-tale conclusion, which includes some empowering twists for the female characters."

Booklist

> reviews

I had great fun writing about Emily Grey, a girl who loves reading fantasy to take her out of her own - as she sees it - ordinary life. She has a secret alter-ego as K’sedra, Empress-Mage of the Desert Kingdom. But when she meet the Power family, specially their daughter Archie (short for Archway) she realises that her fantasies have started to bleed into her daily life.

Hodder (1977); reissued by Barn Owl Books (1988) Buy from Amazon

My first ever book was called White Magic, so that’s clearly a topic close to my heart. It was a teenage novel – a long one, set in Italy, so I’m at least consistent. I wrote it from 1970-1972 and it was published by Rex Collings in 1975. Nothing has ever quite compared with the thrill of that first acceptance letter from Rex, but the book did nothing to set the world on fire. After two nice reviews that I remember – Nick Tucker in the New Statesman and Shirley Toulson in the TES – it disappeared without trace.

 

I started writing it when I left university for the second time in June 1970 and didn’t know what else to do as a career. I knew I didn’t want to teach or work in an office. So I went to live with an old lady in Belsize Park, who gave me a free flatlet in return for walking her cavalier King Charles spaniel and helping with the garden. I gave one-to-one tuition in English and Latin and wrote my novel. It took a year and a half and was then turned down by about a dozen London publishers.

By then I was doing some journalism for the TES myself and had to interview Richard Adams (who wrote Watership Down). He had recently won the Carnegie medal and graciously offered to read the typescript of White Magic. In fact he insisted on my going indoors to get it after he gave me a lift home. A few days later he phoned and said, “It’s not the greatest children’s book I’ve ever read but it’s perfectly publishable. Why don’t you send it to my publisher, Rex Collings?”

Now that was a magic moment!

I’m still writing about magic, years later, in the Stravaganza sequence.

 

Published by Rex Collings (1975) Buy from Amazon

Special Powers

White Magic

David

Shakespeare's Ghost

In Shakespeare’s Ghost, Mary Hoffman provides an imaginative answer to one of the great questions about Shakespeare’s work: why, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream onwards, are his plays increasingly peopled by fairies, witches, ghosts and apparitions?

 

It’s 1610 and Jacobean London is full of dangers, from the plague to plots and revolutions.

 

For William Shakespeare, life has taken an unexpected turn: one that will transform his writing. Haunted by a familiar spirit, he is urged to include more and more paranormal events and characters in his work.

 

Meanwhile, Ned Lambert, a young player in Shakespeare’s company, The King’s Men, is having inexplicable experiences of his own, with a beautiful and elusive woman in green who is not of this world. Now a man on and off stage, Ned is caught between fears and temptations. The poet is his friend, as is the popular young Prince of Wales, but is the mysterious woman he sees friend or foe?

City of Masks

The book teems with operatic intrigue, murder, masks, mortality and love. A deftly handled novel with constantly shifting images.

I can only say that I wish I’d thought of it first.

Linda Newbery, TES Teacher, 2002

Hoffman has created a viable alternative world with a Venice that is not quite Venice but that still retains all the romance associated with exquisite masquerades and court politics.

Bulletin of the centre for children’s books, 2002

....one of the most exciting adventures I’ve read in years.

Wendy Cooling, The Children’s Bookseller, 2002

This is a highly entertaining, full-blooded fare for readers who love a drama. Hoffman builds a complex narrative framework for her involved and involving plot, but includes space for genuine emotional engagement with characters at both ends of the timeline.

The Guardian, 2002

This competent time-travel-alternate-world novel scores high marks for world building.

VOYA, 2002

City of Stars

…storytellling at its best.

The Bookseller, 2003

This is a children’s book… but I defy anyone not to get hooked on it.

Daily Express, 2005

City of Flowers

I was barely allowed to finish it before my god-daughter snatched it away with breathless excitement. “It’s all so real!” she drooled.

The Independent, 2005

…the consistently interesting and versatile Hoffman has caught up all the threads from her first two books to weave a baroque thriller about art, murder, love and family, and does not descend into escapism.

The Times, 2005

The novel is a rollercoaster of a ride through the perfume and poison making of the city, to the plots and political marriages of the rulers. The sword fighting seems very realistic and the resultant slaughter appropriate for the 16th century. Talia is unforgettable – these novels, and particularly this third volume, are written with huge imagination, obviously based on meticulous research.

School Librarian, 2005

City of Secrets

This is the fourth book in a series that has already attracted great praise in these pages – ‘impossible to put down’, ‘An absolute triumph’ – all of which holds true for City of Secrets. I hadn’t read the previous books but, like Hoffman’s new hero, I found myself immediately transported into the fantastic parallel world of Renaissance Italy and couldn’t wait to get back to it every night.

Dyslexic Matt has just turned seventeen when he discovers, like fellow pupils before him, that he is a Stravagante and can travel betwen the modern world and sixteenth-century Padavia (Padua). There he is apprenticed to Professor Constantin in the University Scriptorium, printing radical texts and books of spells.

He meets the eccentric Elizabethan Englishman, Dr Dethridge, and is befriended by Luciano – a young nobleman destined to marry the duchess Arianna but forced into hiding after killing one of the powerful di Chimici clan. The vengeful di Chimici are also set on stamping out all unorthodox practices and these are dangerous times for anyone associated with the world of magic.

If that were not enough, back home Matt is also on the verge of losing hs girlfriend! The dual life conceit is elaborately and ingeniously executed but it is the Talian world that really enthrals. This is the world of Shakespearean tragedy, brilliantly imagined, rich in period detail and peipled with a wonderful cast of characters. A celebration of Italian Renaissance culture and the power of the printed book, City of Secrets is a thrilling read and an exciting addition to an acclaimed fantasy series.

Adam Sherratt, School Librarian 56-3, Autumn 2008

City of Ships

I suppose we all want to be one of those teenagers in Barnsbury. The one who thought they were nothing special, who wakes up somewhere very strange one morning, and discovers they are very special indeed. A whole new life in Talia, four hundred years ago, and with an important role to play in Talia’s history.

The Bookwitch | Read more
 

This is a breathtaking time-travel story to a parallel world that’s packed with non-stop action, pirates and drama. It’s the fifth in the Stravaganza sequence and it will electrify and delight. Intrigue, adventure, magic and excitement are the trademark ingredients for this series and for those new to it it’s not absolutely essential to read the first four particularly as the author, Mary Hoffman has very kindly provided a snapshot of the story to date.

Julia Eccleshare, LoveReading4kids

City of Swords

Intrigue, adventure, magic and excitement are the trademark ingredients for this series and this, the sixth in the Stravaganza series is no exception. Join Laura who with her talisman, a small silver dagger travels through time and space to sixteenth-century Italy for the heart-stopping conclusion to this magical sequence.  It's a thrilling tale filled with battles on the field and battles of the heart which finishes with a long-awaited wedding between two much-loved characters.

Julia Eccleshare, LoveReading4Kids

 

City of Swords is a very satisfying conclusion to what has been a thoroughly enjoyable and original sequence, involving time travel, an alternate renaissance Italy, and a plucky bunch of British teenagers with recognisable preoccupations. There are many fantasy sequences in the teen and young adult markets, but this one really has made its mark.

Bookbag

“intriguing Young Adult novel …The authentic language and period detail really enhance this imaginative tale of mortals and spirits.” Caroline Sanderson Previewer’s Pick for Shakespeare Spotlight The Bookseller 26.2.2016

“One of the liveliest and most captivating historical fantasies about Shakespeare's imagination since Susan Cooper's King of Shadows”. Amanda Craig

 

“Shakespeare's Ghost is a beautifully written, engaging novel which brings the world of Jacobean acting - and the world of Faery - vividly to life.” Laura Tosi, Professor of Literature, University of Venice.

 

“A charming and fantastical interpretation of the genesis

of The Tempest.” Suzi Feay, The Financial Times.

“Shakespeare’s Ghost combines insights into daily and theatrical life in the early seventeenth century with a rich, clever and unusual plot, full of surprises until the end.” Linda Newbery, Armadillo (Editor’s Choice.)

“It brings the world of Jacobean theatre vividly to life … Perceptively and captivatingly written, Shakespeare’s Ghost is highly recommended.” Historical Novel Society

Reviews

The story of the fall of Anne Boleyn as it has

never been told – this time with ravens.

Young Kit nds himself on a plague cart wedged between the bodies of his mother and father. But he is alive and is rescued and taken into the home of the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London. He soon nds he can speak the language of the big black birds, a skill which proves useful when he nds himself caught up in a story of queens and treason, princesses and executioners.

There can be no change in the history of Henry Vlll’s rst two wives but without Kit and the ravens another Tudor monarch might never have survived.

The Ravenmaster's Boy

Reviews

The Ravenmaster’s Boy is a dark but charming Tudor tale – history with a twist. The events of May 1536 – the days of the fall of the Boleyn regime – are still cloudy and mysterious, and it is possible that the birds of the air know as much as the rest of us about what really happened and why.“

Hilary Mantel

author of Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies.

You have written such a clever and original take on a familiar story, full of tenderness and charm. It’s hard to find new ways to revisit those Tudor stories we know so well but through the voice of Kit Wagstaffe and his avian friends you have certainly carved out fresh territory here and I hope Kit will be around to witness the fates of other detainees at the Tower.

Liz Fremantle

Author of Sisters of Treason, The Girl in the Glass Tower and others

Mary Hoffman's new novel The Ravenmaster's Boy, out today, is such a perfect story that you barely notice you are reading. Starting with young Kit's rescue from a plague cart in 1520s London, it's all go and very enjoyable, too, despite it being about the imprisonment and execution of Anne Boleyn.

 

After Kit is discovered alive underneath his dead parents, he is adopted by the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London and brought up to work with the ravens, learning to talk to and understand these intelligent birds.

He is sixteen in 1536 when the Queen is brought to the Tower, alongside the group of men the King accuses of improper behaviour with her. Kit wants to help his Queen, and with the assistance of the ravens and two young girls also living at the Tower, he tries his very best.

We know he won't succeed, of course. This is really very fascinating, and we meet the young Princess Elizabeth as well as Cromwell, and there is a glimpse or two of Henry VIII himself. London in the 16th century was a cruel place, but it was also small and personal on a scale hard to imagine today.

It is inspiring to learn more about a famous part of history, while also being treated to an exciting historical thriller. I sort of warmed to Cromwell, and I became surprisingly fond of the ravens, and their little bird friends all over London, who make such perfect spies.

Really lovely, if you can ignore the rolling heads.

The Bookwitch (Ann Giles)

The scene is set in Tudor England, 1527, in the reign of Henry VIII. Kit, the son of a baker, enters this historical novel on a plague cart “wedged between the smelly and already rotting corpses of the two people he loved best in the world”, his parents. This is The Ravenmaster’s Boy by Mary Hoffman, author of the Stravaganza series, David and Shakespeare’s Ghost. Author Hilary Mantel calls this novel a “dark but charming Tudor tale”, and it is certainly both of those things. The matter of Henry VIII’s treatment of his wives has already spawned a wealth of literature, and schoolchildren in Britain make verses to remember which of them was divorced, and which beheaded. In creating a young adult protagonist, Mary Hoffman casts a gaze of innocence on a period of history that stinks of self-interest and manipulation of the facts. Of the treatment of Anne Boleyn by the king, Kit says, naively but striking the nail on the head, ‘Was there no one to stand up for her and tell him he was doing wrong?”

The sometimes gruesome facts about the last days in the life of Anne Boleyn as she awaits her execution in the Tower are presented honestly by Hoffman, with a whimsical blend of regret and bravado, leaving readers space to come to their own conclusions about the motives of such larger-than-life historical figures as Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell. Hoffman certainly draws on past representations of these Tudor terrors in historical fiction, but still we feel as though we are meeting them for the first time because we are seeing them through the eyes of an adolescent. Kit is old enough to understand the realities of life, but young enough not to be corrupted by them. The purity becomes contagious; he even manages to persuade Cromwell to help the queen, despite the fact that Henry’s henchman had worked so assiduously to do the king’s will. Cromwell muses, “Is it ever painless? … feeling his own thick neck”.

Hoffman dives into the black holes of this clouded period of history, imagining sub-plots behind the main ones, which, had they not been foiled, could have changed the course of British history. The brief foray into alternative history, which comes near the close of the tale, acts as a poignant reminder of how things could have panned out differently. The future of Boleyn’s daughter Elisabeth hung by a thread once her mother’s head was cut. Did Cromwell lift a paw to save her? Maybe he did. But as with many other events of that time, the detail is elusive. It’s as though England buried its head in the sand rather than witness what it was powerless to prevent: a king who put his groin first.

Bookmunch Lucille Turner

(Full text )

© Mary Hoffman 2019