Thursday, June 28, 2012

Winter King by Thomas Penn (audio)



Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England
by Thomas Penn
Narrated by Simon Vance
Blackstone Audio, 2012
14 hours and 34 minutes

Publisher's Summary:

A fresh look at the endlessly fascinating Tudors - the dramatic and overlooked story of Henry VII and his founding of the Tudor Dynasty - filled with spies, plots, counter-plots, and an uneasy royal succession to Henry VIII.
Near the turn of the sixteenth century, England had been ravaged for decades by conspiracy and civil war. Henry Tudor clambered to the top of the heap, a fugitive with a flimsy claim to England’s crown who managed to win the throne and stay on it for 24 years. Although he built palaces, hosted magnificent jousts, and sent ambassadors across Europe, for many Henry VII remained a false king. But he had a crucial asset: his family - the queen and their children, the living embodiment of his hoped-for dynasty. Now, in what would be the crowning glory of his reign, his elder son would marry a great Spanish princess.
Thomas Penn re-creates an England that is both familiar and very strange - a country medieval yet modern, in which honor and chivalry mingle with espionage, realpolitik, high finance, and corruption. It is the story of the transformation of a young, vulnerable boy, Prince Henry, into the aggressive teenager who would become Henry VIII, and of Catherine of Aragon, his future queen, as well as of Henry VII - controlling, avaricious, paranoid, with Machiavellian charm and will to power.
Rich with incident and drama, filled with wonderfully drawn characters, Winter King is an unforgettable account of pageantry, intrigue, the thirst for glory, and the fraught, unstable birth of Tudor England.

Why this book?
A couple of months ago, I found myself searching for an audiobook to enjoy with my husband during a long car ride. His only request was that it be nonfiction. I often listen to nonfiction, but was having a hard time settling on a title until I came across this post on nonfiction audiobook recommendations at Beth Fish Reads. Finally, a book I was certain we could both enjoy.

My thoughts:
Manipulation, intrigue, and more. I have a long-standing interest in Tudor England that mostly centers around Henry VIII. Henry VII, however, was a mystery. Through Winter King, I developed an understanding of both Henry VII's reign and the making of Henry VIII.

Many of the names were already familiar yet, especially in the opening chapter, I had a hard time keeping them straight and wished I could refer to a print copy. Unfortunately, the library hold list was quite long and I wasn't able to obtain one prior to finishing the audio. As a result, some of the early details went over my head, yet I was still able to relax and enjoy the book thanks to Simon Vance's excellent narration.

Accounts of intelligence, counter-intelligence, sabotage, and the overall oppression of subjects during Henry VII's reign came as somewhat of a surprise. I enjoyed learning more about Catherine of Aragon - her marriage to Arthur,  life as a widow, and the proceedings that lead to her marriage to Henry VIII. The death of Henry VII and events surrounding Henry VIII's rise to power were also especially interesting.

Despite a rocky start, I ended up enjoying the book quite a bit.

A note on the audio production:
Simon Vance, where have you been all my audio life? Vance is a perennial favorite among audiobook fans, and with good reason. His flawless narration was incredibly engaging, and definitely the high point of the book for me.

My ratings
The book:


The audio production:


Bottom line:
Winter King provides a fascinating look at the beginning of Tudor England, especially the reign of Henry VII. Highly recommended history buffs.

FTC disclosure: purchased from Audible.com

18 comments:

  1. It is definitely helpful to have a decent grounding in Henry VII if you're going to listen to this in audio.

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    1. Jen - Henry VII was a total mystery to me, but that's why I chose to listen. The audio definitely worked, but I was a little lost during the intro/first chapter.

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  2. I am fascinated by the Tudors, and this book sounds perfect for my car commute. I agree with you about Simon Vance. I am listening to him read David Copperfield, and he is excellent.

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    1. Sharon - The Tudors are nothing if not fascinating! This would be excellent for your commute. I didn't realize Simon Vance read David Copperfield - that's next on my Dickens list. Maybe another read/listen is in order. It's working very well with with North and South so far.

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  3. I love nonfiction, but this Henry VII business scares me because it seems like it would be drudgery (and because I know nothing about the history). I know they were all totally messed up and it would be better than anything anyone could make up, but I'm still intimidated.

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    1. Sandy - I'm not going to sugarcoat it... this was tough going at first. Maybe it was because I was driving through horrendous road construction, but maybe it was just dull to begin with. Once invested though, it was really a good book. Without Vance's expert narration, I doubt I would have lasted through the first chapter.

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  4. I don't read much non-fiction but this sounds very good. I do love history and the monarchy is always interesting. Will have to see if I can find it for our up coming road trip!

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    1. Peggy - I really think audio is the only way to go with this one. If you can get a print copy for the beginning, it would definitely be helpful. Even if you can't, once you get past the first chapter or two, it's a fascinating book.

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  5. I really need to get back to this one...I don't even think I've listened to the first hour.

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    1. Softdrink - I thought the first hour was going to kill me (with or without the road construction). If you can get beyond those first couple of chapters it does get better...

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  6. I admit I'm not too familiar with this period of history, and this audio sure sounds like an informative resource as well as enjoyable listen. I got Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall from the Booksale, have you read/listened to it?

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    1. Arti- I think Wolf Hall is historical fiction for the historian. I enjoyed it very much, but it was a slow read. Have a copy of Bring Up the Bodies here, but now wish I could listen instead - Simon Vance is the narrator!

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  7. I love Simon Vance! I listened to him read The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest and thought he was a terrific reader. I need to find more books that he's narrated and this one sounds like it might be interesting

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  8. Les - Isn't Simon Vance amazing? I would have abandoned this book, but his narration pulled me through. If you can get past the intro/first chapter, it is really wonderful! Several year ago I listened to Vance narrate China Road and recommend that one very highly, too!

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  9. Note to self: check out Simon Vance's list of books he's narrated!!

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    1. Staci - Definitely check out Simon Vance! After I wrote this, realized that I had listened to him before... back in the days when I didn't note narrator's names. It was a non-fiction title called China Road and it was very, very good.

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  10. I'm always looking for audiobooks that both Jason and I can enjoy on car trips. Great recommendation.

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    1. Stacybuckeye - You'll be fine once you get past the first couple of chapters...

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