Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession (Six Tudor Queens #2) by Alison Weir

Noted historian Alison Weir returns to her fiction series based on Henry VIII’s wives in Book 2–Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession. (Book 1 in the series, Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen, was previously reviewed here.)

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession front cover (Ballantine Books/Random House)

THE PLOT: Obviously, this is a very light summary of a pretty big story! The novel starts with eleven-year-old Anne Boleyn preparing to go to the court at Burgundy where she will serve the Regent Margaret. Under Margaret’s tutelage, Anne learns that the world doesn’t only have to be ruled by men; women can be intelligent and hold power, too. Eventually, Anne travels to the court of France, serving the former English Princess Mary who is now Queen of France. After the king’s death, Anne’s sister Mary is violated by the new French king and leaves court. Anne believes she herself will never love any man.

In England, Anne falls in love with Henry Percy, but their betrothal is nixed by Cardinal Wolsey. Mary is once again assaulted, this time by the English king. She reluctantly becomes his mistress and bears him a child. Anne hates King Henry for his treatment of her sister, but then he becomes smitten with Anne. He pursues her despite Anne’s exasperated protests that she will never love him, especially since he is already married. Henry decides this means Anne will love him if he divorces his Queen, Katherine of Aragon. She hasn’t been able to bear him a living son anyway, so it makes sense to have the marriage annulled.

Anne realizes this gives her a real opportunity to be queen, and she grabs it, despite her newfound love for one of Henry’s men, Henry Norris. But the years drag by without the divorce taking place. Anne amuses herself by causing the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey at her family’s request. Finally, Henry breaks from the Catholic Church in order to marry Anne. But when she, too, fails to bear a prince, her days are numbered.

MY TWO CENTS: First thing: this is a work of historical FICTION. If you want facts, you’ll have to read some biographies. I can recommend three by Alison Weir: The Six Wives of Henry VIII, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, and Mary Boleyn, the Mistress of Kings.

So what sets this novel apart from everything else you’ve already read about Anne Boleyn? First, I loved the setup of young Anne in the court of Burgundy. This gives some insight into Anne’s forward thinking ideas about women in power. Second, the idea that her sister Mary was raped, twice, is a different take on “the great whore.” It also feeds into Anne’s ideas that men cannot be trusted, and especially Henry.

What really sets this apart, though, is Anne’s love for Henry Norris! Historians will recognize the name as one of the king’s men who was executed with Anne, but history mostly calls his “love” of her courtly love…i.e., the kind of playful flirting that was common at this time, with no real meaning behind it. Weir recasts theirs as a great unfulfilled love, first because Norris is already betrothed and then married when Anne meets him, and then later because when given the opportunity, Anne deliberately chooses her pursuit of the crown over her love of Norris. It’s clear in this version that ambition leads to Anne’s ultimate downfall.

I don’t know that I’ve ever read a version of this story where Anne was plainly dismissive of Henry’s suit of her due to her disgust for him. This Anne never sees Henry as attractive, even when he is a young man. Later, after his violation of her sister, she has a loathing of him that he simply does not take seriously, no matter how much she tries to convince him that she’s not interested. It’s not until she realizes she could be queen that she begins to encourage him. This is a very interesting, different take on the Anne history paints as deliberately leading Henry on so that he would divorce Katherine.

Another twist is with Anne’s brother George. He was executed with Anne on a charge of incest, but this version gives an alternate view on the speech he gave before his execution, stating some degree of guilt.

Finally, do keep in mind that, like the first book, this novel is set entirely from Anne’s point of view. History buffs will probably fill in the gaps of what’s going on behind the scenes, but there are things the reader isn’t privy to because Anne isn’t.

COVER NOTES: I love this cover! The color is beautiful, but also a bit melancholy. Unlike Katherine’s cover, you don’t see Anne’s face full-on, which adds to her aura of mystery. (History says Anne was more captivating than physically beautiful, but it would be difficult to capture that on a cover.) I also love that the style matches the Katherine cover. Series books should all match! Always! Please, PLEASE don’t switch design midway through the series. I hate that. I want a matching set, please.

BOTTOM LINE: A good read, and offers a few twists on this well-known story. I’m eagerly awaiting the next book, which will cover one of Henry’s most overlooked queens, and yet the only one to give him a legitimate living son.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available May 16, 2017, in hardcover and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: According to the introductory video on Weir’s Six Tudor Queens website, the next novel will explore how “there’s some more to Jane Seymour than meets the eye.” Expect Weir’s fictional Jane to be a defender of Catholicism and Princess Mary. Check out this video and more at www.sixtudorqueens.co.uk.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley and Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen (Six Tudor Queens #1) by Alison Weir

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen is the first book in Alison Weir’s new historical fiction series that will cover each wife of Henry VIII.

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen Front Cover (Ballantine Books/Random House)

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen Front Cover (Ballantine Books/Random House)

THE PLOT: The Spanish Infanta Katherine has traveled to England to become the bride of Arthur, Prince of Wales. Arthur is the oldest son of Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch, and her marriage and future son will help secure the Tudors on the throne. But Arthur is a sickly boy, and his death puts Katherine in an awkward position; stuck in England with no money except her dowry, which she begins to siphon off just to pay for food for herself and her servants. She is betrothed to Arthur’s younger brother, Henry, under the assumption that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated, but there are no guarantees that this marriage will take place.

Upon the king’s death, Katherine is finally married to Henry, now King Henry VIII, and it appears to be a true love match. Henry is young, handsome, and all too willing to produce an heir. Unfortunately, none of Katherine’s many pregnancies result in a live son. Babies are born dead, miscarried, or live only a few months. Only a princess, Mary, survives and thrives.

Katherine begins to worry that their marriage is cursed, perhaps because Elizabeth of York’s male cousin was executed before Katherine’s parents would allow her to marry Arthur. Henry stands by Katherine until she is no longer able to bear children; then he claims their marriage is invalid because Katherine was first married to his brother. It’s a bit longer before Katherine realizes Henry is desperate to take a new wife, and not just to get a male heir. The influence of Anne Boleyn will cause Henry to alter the course of history.

MY TWO CENTS: You may be wondering what sets this book apart from all the other Tudor fiction out there. First, it’s written by acclaimed historian Alison Weir, which means she’s very well versed in what is fact versus what is fiction. Because this is historical fiction, she’s taken some liberties with letters and the timeline; but you know she made those choices deliberately and not out of ignorance.

Second, this book is told in third person limited from Katherine’s point of view. If you are familiar with Tudor history, you’ll be aware of things going on behind the scenes that Katherine, as our narrator, doesn’t know. For example, it’s a long while before she realizes that Henry VII isn’t to be trusted. The reader realizes that Henry VIII has started cheating on her way before Katherine does.  Even as the reader realizes that first Mary Boleyn and then Anne Boleyn have surely entered the picture, Katherine remains blissfully ignorant. Finally, Katherine remains convinced until very, very late that Henry will ultimately give up Anne, reconcile with the church, and come back to her. The reader feels sorry for Katherine, knowing that she won’t ever get so much as a kind word from Henry ever again.

But at the same time, the reader must admire Katherine’s resilience. First she lives through the horrible poverty between Arthur’s death and Henry VII’s. Then, when faced with her dissolving marriage, she remains absolutely certain of its validity. Even when momentarily tempted to take the easy way out, she remembers that she must stay strong to secure her daughter’s position.

I don’t always love Weir’s fiction writing style. For example, characters “wept afresh” a little too often for my taste. But it’s certainly not as awkward as Weir’s “Captive Queen.” You can lose yourself in the story and the history.

BOTTOM LINE: A long book, and well worth the read; offers a unique perspective entirely from Katherine’s point of view. If you know Tudor history, you’re filling in the other angles of the story while reading what’s presented. I’m very much looking forward to other works in this series.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available May 31, 2016, in hardcover and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: I hope we in the US get these novellas: Arthur, Prince of the Roses, coming in November 2016, and The Blackened Heart, a bridge story between Katherine and Anne Boleyn, coming in March 2017. Anne Boleyn’s book will probably come spring/summer 2017.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley and Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

Anne & Henry by Dawn Ius

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I LOVE historical fiction. It’s my favorite genre. I’ve also read quite a bit of nonfiction about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. When I saw this YA book offered a modern, high school retelling of their romance, I was intrigued. Is their story so timeless that it can be dropped in any setting in any era?

Anne & Henry Front Cover (Simon Pulse)

Anne & Henry Front Cover (Simon Pulse)

THE PLOT: Henry Tudor is the Big Man On Campus at his exclusive high school, but he’s still not quite happy with his life. He lives in the shadow of his older brother Arthur, who died. He’s even inherited Arthur’s former girlfriend, Catherine. They’re expected to marry because their families believe they’re an appropriate match. Yes, their families are so snobby that Henry is criticized for being the football quarterback instead of spending all his time on the debate team. After all, debate will help prepare him for his future political career. Football is just a sport.

Then he meets new student Anne Boleyn, a dangerous rebel type. She’s got a bit of a past, and she’s very different from the in-crowd. She immediately annoys Henry’s friends when she puts them in their place for being jerks. But she captivates Henry by being wild in a way he’s never known before. They’re drawn together in a passionate romance that just might be love. But their relationship may not survive everything working against them–including Henry and Anne’s own destructive natures.

MY TWO CENTS: I tried to measure this book in two ways: as a retelling of a nonfiction historical relationship, and as entertainment provided by a YA book.

The emotionally explosive relationship between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn literally changed the world, and people have studied the couple for hundreds of years. What about Anne Boleyn was so captivating that Henry broke away from the Catholic Church to have her? Obviously Henry wanted a legitimate son, but he risked everything for Anne, a commoner with no connections and radical ideas about religion. And once they were finally married after years of waiting, how did all that passionate love turn to passionate hatred so quickly? Was it just about her three failed attempts to bear a son? It’s likely that the conspiracy that brought about her execution was manufactured by Cromwell…on Henry’s orders. Had he just tired of her enough to have her killed? Or did he possibly come to resent how much he’d had to change for her? Had he just become crazed from his own power? Henry claimed until his death that Anne had bewitched him.

So how does this book incorporate the historical facts into modern teen life? Well, it’s got the general structure: Henry as a leader (student council president); dating Catherine, who was first his dead older brother’s girlfriend. Henry is emotionally disconnected from Catherine. He doesn’t really want his brother’s leftovers. This is sort of a pale imitation of Henry VII’s eventual divorce from first wife Catherine of Aragon, citing the Bible passage about marrying his brother’s wife as the cause for their lack of a male heir.

Anne enters the picture as someone completely different from anyone Henry has known before. She doesn’t seem to care about appearances. She doesn’t immediately suck up to him for his social position. But none of Henry’s friends likes her, partially because they wanted her as their own conquest. Aside from the main characters, there are references to friends like Charles (Brandon) and Marie (a stand in for Henry’s sister, Mary?) and Wyatt (“noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am.” If you don’t know this reference, do look it up).

Unfortunately, because it’s a novel about teens, the real story has been pretty watered down to just the essence. A teenage Henry obviously doesn’t feel the desperate drive to produce a son before it’s too late. He just wants Anne to help him act out, to break out of his structured life. All their passion seems more like teenage hormones, not a force of nature. The change of Henry’s feelings for Anne seem based mostly on jealousy as the conspiracy set up by his friends entraps her. However, the reader does see hints of his own self-involvement, self-preservation, and general douchebaggery as he contemplates “no longer being under Anne’s spell” and starts looking for the next girl…possibly the cute waitress, Jane Seymour.

How does it read purely for YA entertainment? It’s a little difficult for me to answer that question, but I think I’d be disappointed with the ending if I didn’t know the background story. The story has a strange, abrupt ending, like the real-life story did, but a lite version. Teen readers may not get Henry’s motivation, or feel satisfied with the resolution since there’s no justice for Anne and no punishment for her tormentors. Maybe that’s the whole point—art mimics life in the lack of a happy, or at least reasonable, ending, and leaves you wondering where this went so wrong. I’m hoping that readers who are unfamiliar with the history might be curious enough to go looking for details of the real story. This book could be a great way to generate interest in nonfiction for those who might otherwise dismiss history as “boring.”

NOTE: For those concerned with such things, the book is full of strong language, and there are scenes of sexual activity.

BOTTOM LINE: An interesting concept that didn’t quite make it for me. May not be satisfying to those reading for the YA story, but could be a gateway to getting younger readers interested in historical fiction or nonfiction.

TEACUP RATING: Three out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available September 1, 2015, in hardcover and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir

Alison Weir writes my absolutely favorite nonfiction. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this timely biography of Elizabeth of York: daughter, sister, niece, wife, and mother to kings, and she perhaps should have been queen of England in her own right.

Elizabeth of York Front Cover (Ballantine Books/Random House)

Elizabeth of York Front Cover (Ballantine Books/Random House)

THE COVERAGE: The book begins with a quick summary of the beginning of the Wars of the Roses. It’s not enough to give a lot of details or overwhelm the reader, but glances over Henry VI, the Kingmaker Warwick, and how Edward IV got to the throne. Elizabeth’s story then begins with birth of Edward’s first child, a princess. It continues through her trips into Sanctuary, engagement to the French dauphin, possible romance with Uncle Richard III, marriage to Henry VII, riding out various pretenders who claim to be one of her lost brothers (the “princes in the tower”), birth of royal children (including Arthur, first husband to Catherine of Aragon; Margaret, queen of Scotland; Henry VIII; and Mary, queen of France), and eventual death and burial.

MY TWO CENTS: The good thing about Elizabeth of York is that as a person in the middle of significant historical turmoil, there are a lot of primary sources about her family, so we have quite a lot of fairly accurate information about her entire life. (Of course, some information can never be “accurate,” such as the fate of her brothers or her and Henry’s private true feelings for each other.) The bad thing about Elizabeth of York is that, unlike her mother, she was a person to whom things generally happened as opposed to someone who made things happen. While her story is very interesting, keep in mind that she’s pretty much never the master of her own fate.  I call this a “timely” biography in that The White Queen has just been airing in the USA, and Philippa Gregory’s last bestseller was The White Princess. (For what it’s worth, the historical Elizabeth is a much less wishy-washy character than Gregory’s fictional Elizabeth.)

TEACUP RATING: I give this five teacups, but remember, I generally love Alison Weir’s nonfiction. (Her fiction can be hit-or-miss for me, although I found the last one, A Dangerous Inheritance, very good.) Some readers may be tempted to skip over lists of Elizabeth’s accounts…I personally find that primary source fascinating.

ON SALE DATE: Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World will be on sale in the USA on December 3rd.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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