Published: February 25, 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction
Recommended for readers who are looking for a guilty pleasure
At sixteen, Elizabeth Howard envisions a glorious life for herself as lady-in-waiting to the future queen, Catherine of Aragon. But when she is forced to marry Thomas Boleyn, a wealthy commoner, Elizabeth is left to stagnate in the countryside while her detested husband pursues his ambitions. There, she raises golden girl Mary, moody George, and ugly duckling Anne—while staving off boredom with a string of admirers. Until Henry VIII takes the throne. . .
When Thomas finally brings his highborn wife to London, Elizabeth indulges in lavish diversions and dalliances—and catches the lusty king's eye. But those who enjoy Henry's fickle favor must also guard against his wrath. For while her husband's machinations bring Elizabeth and her children to the pinnacle of power, the distance to the scaffold is but a short one—and the Boleyn family's fortune may be turning. . .
It has taken me a while to gather my thoughts about this book. On the one hand, I devoured it from beginning to end. I was in needing something a little less brain-taxing and this definitely fit the bill. If you want drama, you'd be hard pressed to find a better source than the court of Henry VIII. And the story of Elizabeth Howard Bullen--I mean Boleyn!--is an interesting take on it. She was the mother of Anne Boleyn and had a unique view of one of the more tragic lust stories in history.
On the other hand, I enjoyed this the way I would enjoy a trashy TV show. It let my brain relax, but I felt like I needed a shower afterwards. Honestly, I found it a bit overly salacious. The truth about the Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII is a great framework and many, many authors have explored it. Yet, I felt Purdy took it a bit too far. Honestly, their story is dramatic enough without adding too much and Purdy, on many occasions, did add too much. At one point, a pregnant Anne Boleyn literally pulls Jane Seymour "off" her husband and proceeds to beat her up. I find it sad that Purdy felt she had to go so far into the realm of sensationalism with this already sensationalist story.
Another issue is that Elizabeth Howard was hard to take at first. She's an incredibly unlikable character--think soap opera villain. However, you aren't supposed to like her. One thing Purdy does do well in this book is to illustrate that Anne's choices and personality may have come from her own experiences growing up with a disinterested mother and an overly ambitious father. I found Elizabeth to be a much more sympathetic character later in the book when she realizes that her children ended up paying for her choices as a mother.
The book does move along at a fast clip, but I found a large section in the middle to be unsatisfying. Once Anne comes to court, the story shifts from being about Elizabeth to Elizabeth just relating what happens to Anne. I wish Purdy had kept the focus on Elizabeth and not turned that section into a recitation (albeit, a salacious one) of a story we all already know.
Reading what I just wrote, it sounds like I hated this book...but please go back to how I started this review. I did enjoy this book as a light diversion and if anyone is looking for something along the lines of a fluffy beach read, they might also enjoy this.
I received an electronic copy of this book to read in return for an honest review. I received no other compensation for this post.