Friday, February 1, 2019

The Dead Queens Club by Hannah Capin

The Dead Queens Club by Hannah Capin
Release Date - January 29, 2019
Publisher Website - Inkyard Press
Publisher Social Media - Twitter
Pages -  464 pages
My Rating - 4/5
**received from the publisher for an honest review**

Here is the Goodreads synopsis
What do a future ambassador, an overly ambitious Francophile, a hospital-volunteering Girl Scout, the new girl from Cleveland, the junior cheer captain, and the vice president of the debate club have in common? It sounds like the ridiculously long lead-up to an astoundingly absurd punchline, right? Except it’s not. Well, unless my life is the joke, which is kind of starting to look like a possibility given how beyond soap opera it’s been since I moved to Lancaster. But anyway, here’s your answer: we’ve all had the questionable privilege of going out with Lancaster High School’s de facto king. Otherwise known as my best friend. Otherwise known as the reason I’ve already helped steal a car, a jet ski, and one hundred spray-painted water bottles when it’s not even Christmas break yet. Otherwise known as Henry. Jersey number 8.

Meet Cleves. Girlfriend number four and the narrator of The Dead Queens Club, a young adult retelling of Henry VIII and his six wives. Cleves is the only girlfriend to come out of her relationship with Henry unscathed—but most breakups are messy, right? And sometimes tragic accidents happen…twice…
I never expected to read a feminist twist to the story of Henry VIII and his six wives. The Dead Queens Club provides that along with a funny, sarcasm laced, modern take. This may not appeal to those looking for a more historically accurate read but those wanting a fresh take on this story will find much to enjoy within these pages.

The adapting of King Henry VIII's reign to a highschool setting works incredibly well. It's dramatic and filled with heightened emotions. It fits within a setting that breeds rumours and gossip as naturally as breathing. The setting is helped by the winks to the historical inspiration of this story. Many of the side characters are ones that history enthusiasts will recognize. The six girlfriends easily represent the six wives with fun details woven in for those Tudor obsessed. It's all done in a way that isn't overt and allows the story to go outside its inspiration. Some of my favourite details are the way Jane Seymour's Jane Seymour-ness was written into the story, the way Anne Boleyn's iconic necklace was woven into the story, Henry's obvious insecurity, and the portrayal of the character who represents Jane Parker. She is a character often vilified in recounts of this story so what was done with her here was a little more interesting.

The stories of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard have always angered me.  The smear campaign, slut shaming, and overall character assassinations these ladies endured was nothing short of a travesty. Capin, obviously, shares this anger (and has an apparent soft spot for Katherine Howard). She twists their story into something empowering. It becomes a story of support and sisterhood. It, at times, made my heart soar with how these ladies were portrayed. Their defense is something this book gets incredibly right. Both Anna and Katie were more than their reputations within this novel and I appreciated that care was taken for us to get to know both of them, even though Anna is already dead when the story begins. Along with slut shaming other topics like toxic masculinity and gaslighting are also represented with the snark and wit that the main character dishes out at every turn.

Cleves (aka Henry's fourth girlfriend) is the type of character that many will label 'unlikeable'. I personally loved her. Her anti-slut shaming rants are thing of beauty and she's intelligent if a little unfocused. She may be indecisive at times, and may hide behind her sharp wit but she's quick to defend those in need. She's also relateable in that she isn't sure she what she wants from her future. She's a teen who is still figuring it out. I think that will resonate with a lot of people in comparison to some of the other characters. She isn't perfect but I think that makes her a much more interesting character.

My only real issues with this novel are some pacing issues as it feels uneven at times and that I wanted more time with the other characters. I was intrigued by so many of them and just wanted to see them developed a little bit more. It worked for me overall which is why I will be looking forward to whatever Hannah Capin writes next.

Those looking for a very different take on the drama of Henry VIII will want to snap this one up. It's a clever take that gives the focus to the women instead of the tyrannical nightmare that was Henry. It celebrates female friendship, overthrowing the patriarchy, and manages to be a fun read in the process. Long live the queens, indeed!

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