Published by Inkyard Press on January 29, 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Retellings, Young Adult
Goodreads • Book Depository
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 received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Okay, I’m gonna be up front with y’all: my experience reading The Dead Queens Club was, hands-down, one of the STRANGEST reading experiences I’ve ever had. I literally can’t make up my mind as to whether I actively hated this book, or whether I’m just apathetic toward it.
Let me preface my review with the fact that I was so excited to read DQC. I’ve been obsessed with Tudor England since I was in elementary school, and this was pitched as “Mean Girls x The Tudors,” which, like, SIGN ME UP. However, I was left feeling more frustrated and confused than anything else after finishing this book.
The Dead Queens Club retells the history of Henry VIII and his six wives, but in a modern American high school setting– which is such a cool concept. Our main character is Cleves (short for “Cleveland,” the city she hails from), who gets caught up in the charismatic Henry’s world after meeting at summer camp and instantly clicking. Cleves also holds the title of Girlfriend Number Four, a fact both she and Henry try to ignore, as they long ago decided they work better as best friends than romantic partners. When two of Henry’s girlfriends turn up dead after mysterious “accidents,” Cleves and her fellow surviving girlfriends start to get a little suspicious, and hatch a plot to catch Henry in his lies.
Friends, I don’t say this often, so take note when I say it now: this book was so damn confusing. And I don’t mean that in the sense that the themes went over my head; no, I mean that in the most elementary sense– disjointed plot threads are thrown in seemingly at random, only to be haphazardly hacked together much later in the story. It didn’t feel like a continuous story because we jumped around so much, with very little connection.
Another thing I absolutely could not stand about this was the writing. Again, this isn’t something I say lightly, but Capin’s writing style screamed “trying too hard.” Cleves’s *~quirkiness~* is pushed on the reader at every turn. I don’t even know how to describe this, but the author strings together words/phrases that would normally be hyphenated into continuous strings of words that are really difficult to read– each time, it took me out of the story. This happened *at least* once per page of the e-ARC, usually more like two-four times per page. It was endlessly frustrating, and after about 20 pages, this grammatical choice alone had me ready to call it quits. I think lots of readers will take issue with the writing here. It’s one of those things that’s unquestionably polarizing. On the surface, Cleves is exactly the kind of “unlikeable female protagonist” I usually love (even when other readers don’t), but in this particular case, she felt like a cardboard cutout with no backstory or development. Like, I never got a sense of her as a person, outside of her acerbic wit, which is an issue in a book that’s told in a first-person POV.
I will applaud Hannah Capin on the brilliant idea to retell this segment of history in a modern high school, because wow, the level of drama is 100% conducive to that kind of setting. And, for the most part, I think the way Capin adapted these historical figures to the setting was pretty brilliant. Like, I definitely laughed every time Cleves said, “ugh, Jane Seymour,” because, yeah, I think everyone familiar with the original history feels that way. That being said, I just needed more development for all of them. Like Cleves, all the other characters in this book felt very superficial and surface-level. Also, the fact that every character in this book is, at least to the reader’s knowledge, straight and cis, is kind of a disservice to the messages Capin was trying to articulate with this book. Like, the fact that there were SO MANY CHARACTERS and none of them were canonically queer was… very strange.
Going off of this, I do appreciate the themes Capin addressed in DQC– toxic masculinity, gaslighting, slut shaming, etc.– but I honestly don’t feel like she went far enough with any of them. The scene where Cleves realizes the ways in which Henry has been manipulating her was one of the (few) highlights of the book for me. Like the rest of the story, though, these explorations felt very surface-level.
I contemplated DNFing this infinite times, and on one hand, I’m glad I didn’t, because it did get better as the story went on. On the other hand, though, I don’t feel like I got anything out of reading this. I don’t need to have a deep, meaningful experience with every book or anything, but I do expect to at least enjoy or be interested in the book if I don’t get anything else out of it… and with DQC, not so. The last third of the book was the only time I was even marginally interested in any of the events of the story.
Overall, The Dead Queens Club boasts an excellent premise, but subpar execution, and I will not be recommending it.
Have you read The Dead Queens Club? If so, let’s discuss in the comments! If not, do you plan to read it?