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I liked this book more than I had expected. It’s a novel, a fictionalized account of what might have happened if Anne Boleyn had written a diary. Of course the author made assumptions that cannot be verified as fact--that’s what happens with historical fiction. What mattered to me was that these assumptions not clash with what is actually known about Anne, those around her, and the setting in which she lived. The events in her story must agree with those from history sufficiently for me to suspend disbelief enough to enjoy the book.
I have more than a casual interest in Tudor history and found that the author was remarkably accurate in relating the known events that occurred during Anne’s life. This made the fiction mostly plausible for me. The novel is a sympathetic portrait of Anne Boleyn, told from her perspective, showing a woman living in the “man’s world” with all the struggles and tragedies this entailed. I recognized a number of quotes from Anne, Henry, and others that have been documented by historians and placed in this fictional context. This gave necessary credibility to the tale as it unfolded. Of course I knew the ending, but I still cared.
Robin Maxwell wove her story of Anne with that of her daughter Elizabeth, newly come to the throne as a young and passionate woman. For me that was one of the most effective aspects of this novel. It is the story of two women, living in an age where they were considered mere chattel, having virtually no rights or control over their lives. Neither was suited to their prescribed female roles in that society, and both struggled mightily against its constraints. The mother was destroyed while the daughter prevailed to become one of England’s greatest rulers. This novel attempts to explain how this might have come about.
I found other reviews interesting. People seemed to love this book or hate it. I agree that there were problems with the story--elements that seem improbable knowing what we do from history. But there was a lot this author got right as well. I’ll not give it 5 stars because I did notice the occasional implausible details and they disrupted the narrative for me a bit. However, from my perspective this novel deserves 4 stars for what the author got right and for this unusual portrait she gave me of Anne, Elizabeth, and the Tudor era. Besides, it was a lot of fun to listen to!
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
My title says it all. I downloaded this book because I was done with all of the Philippa Gregory books, Alison Weir fiction and non-fiction, most of Carolly Erickson (I draw the line at her Jane Seymour novel based on the reviews). This book is simply OUTSTANDING. Interestingly, the novel was written in 1997; it is not a "new book." Yet I had never seen it nor heard of it until I really went searching for a new audiobook to listen to while my kids swim and I WANTED a Tudor novel that carried some respectability (hence, the reason I refuse to download Erickson's Jane Seymour book). The author's note at the end of the recorded book explains how her novel came to be and her thoughts on the new interest in the Tudors that started around the turn of the 21st Century, including the Elizabeth movies with Cate Blanchett and The Tudors on Showtime. Don't just turn the book off at the end.... the note is fascinating as well.
I always try not to give away spoilers in my reviews, but let's face it: Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth Tudor don't hold a lot of secrets. Or do they? Ms. Maxwell's exceptional novel explores the relationship of Henry VIII's controversial and much discussed second wife through the view of a fictional diary kept by Anne Boleyn... a diary given to Elizabeth Tudor shortly after she took the throne of England. The history is seemingly flawless (I would need to double check a few facts, but it seems pretty strong) which is a rarity in the Tudor historical fictions. Anne and Elizabeth come back to life -- really back to life; it's as if Anne is speaking to you. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is a unique perspective on one of the best known characters in all of history. It gives a plausible, yet teasing, hint of what may have caused many of Elizabeth's opinions on marriage and her role as Queen.
Many people who have read my reviews may have picked up on the fact that, although I am fascinated by the Tudor family, I do not like Elizabeth Tudor. I am a Catholic Scot -- my sympathies lie elsewhere for obvious reasons. As I read or listen to each novel and much of the non-fiction as well, there is always a point where I inwardly roll my eyes and think "oh well, the victors write the history." Like Ms. Maxwell, I have spent a lifetime studying the Tudors and the people who made up not only the English Courts but the intrigues of religion and politics and greed that truly ruled the Reformation. Each and every part of this novel is true to history without the occasional whining of Phillipa Gregory's portrayals of the female characters. No matter how much I dislike Elizabeth Tudor (because we Scots DO hold grudges), I felt my eyes opened and disliked Queen Elizabeth and Anne Boleyn a little less after listening to this magnificent novel. That is the highest praise I can give a novel.
13 of 14 people found this review helpful