Mean Girls meets The Tudors in Hannah Capin’s The Dead Queens Club, a clever contemporary YA retelling of Henry VIII and his wives (or, in this case, his high school girlfriends). Told from the perspective of Annie Marck (“Cleves”), a 17-year-old aspiring journalist from Cleveland who meets Henry at summer camp, The Dead Queens Club is a fun, snarky read that provides great historical detail in an accessible way for teens while giving the infamous tale of Henry VIII its own unique spin.
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’m not a big history buff, but I watched The Tudors series on Netflix several years ago and was hooked. Given, it was highly dramatized, but you can’t tell me there weren’t clandestine meetings, backstabbings, political maneuverings, and power plays during that time. And then, of course, there was Henry and his wives. When I saw this book, I was instantly curious about a modern day retelling – in high school, no less.
The author is very clever in how she created her characters based on the historical figures, bringing the queens, Henry, and some of their acquaintances into modern day. Cleves, based on Anne of Cleves, who was queen for a few short months, is Henry’s best friend. Like Henry VIII, this Henry has a wandering eye and a long string of girlfriends. Loosely paralleling their historical relationship, Cleves and Henry date for an awkward couple of weeks, but decide they’re better as friends. Cleves is blindly loyal, awkward, and her snark had me chuckling several times.
Make no mistake – this high school is just as socially treacherous as Henry the VIII’s court, with suspicious deaths and characters falling out of favor. Scheming, plotting, and gossip abound, making up a large portion of the book, but occasionally don’t do much to advance the story. All the back and forth is difficult to follow at times, but once the book hits the 75% mark, things move along quickly.
I didn’t enjoy this read as much as I’d hoped, but that’s more me than the book. I’m not a big fan of Mean Girls and erratic high school drama, but judging by other reviews, many readers thought The Dead Queens Club was fabulous. This book is scheduled for publication January 29th, 2019.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.