I’m afraid I was wrong. Wrong about Mary, who never wanted to be better than anyone else; she just wanted to be herself.
I’m afraid all the things I’ve said and done will hunt me down and haunt me. Because the thing I’m afraid of is the same thing I told the king would make me happy. The thing I’ve been pursuing through the forest of my own life.
This book wasn't what I anticipated. It was still good---it just didn't head in the direction I thought it would.
Come on now, Anne Boleyn? Arguably the most famous of Henry VIII's wives? The woman was was made the scapegoat for Henry's formation of the new Church of England? The seductress who won a king's heart?
Really. Look into my eyes and tell me you're not utterly fascinated by this woman. If you say no, you're a lying liar, and we are no longer friends.
This book didn't fit into my expectations of it because it was so much about character development, and compared to other books I've read, Henry VIII played such a minor role. This book was about Anne's initial arrival at court, in disgrace from her antics at the French court, in pain, in absolutely uncertainty about her future, and with a whole lot of growing up to do. There really is not a lot of plot to this book, the character development and family dynamics is what made this book shine. Knowing Anne's history, this was a somewhat bittersweet read.
There is also a whole lot of romance, insta-loves, love---I don't even want to say triangle, because it's more of a love hexagon, not to mention adultery. Despite everything, it didn't bother me that much, because it was fitting given the time and the context. There are a lot of love interests, a lot of courtship, a lot of flirtation, and almost none of it relevant to who we know will win in the end. Really, that's my main complaint about the book.
Maybe that was the point of the book, to let the reader know that Anne was Anne before she was Henry's infamous lover, but for a book about Anne's development during her initial meetings with Henry and throughout his initial infatuation of her---Henry's interest and Anne's interactions with him were just not believable. Henry's growing infatuation with Anne as she grows into herself was so weak and so poorly depicted as to be almost nonexistent. And despite Anne's overwhelming crush on Henry...and he does cut a pretty attractive figure in his youth:
The red of his hair shone against his black velvet cap, echoed in a more subdued shade by his beard. He was dressed all in crimson and cloth of gold, with jewels at his throat and crossing his chest, on his cap and encrusting his fingers.
But it wasn’t the gold that dazzled me. And it wasn’t the jewels.
It was the way he wore them. The way they fit the body beneath. Broad chest. Narrow waist. The hard edge of the muscles in his leg beneath the stockings. And he towered above us, especially the lame and stocky Claude, who glowed round and sweet like a gilded pudding.
Anne's conversations with Henry and how he came to grow increasingly attracted to her was just inadequately depicted. The sparks flew off the pages far more and far more believably for Anne's alternative love interests.
This book offers a very interesting view on her character. From what we know of Anne, from the numerous accounts and rumors as to her character as "the great whore," the witch, the seductress, I certainly didn't come to expect the Anne we came to meet within this book. Young Anne was not beautiful, not like her sister Mary, who was also King Henry's mistress. Anne is intelligent, well-read, witty, educated. She is independent, she has a lovely singing voice, she plays the lute beautifully. But she is nothing like Mary.
[Mary's] voice is round and delicate, though tuneless.
But Mary is beautiful.
Her skin is naturally pale with just a touch of pink. She has wide eyes, smooth hair the color of freshly cut oak, both of which she got from our mother. I once heard my father remark that I must be a changeling child, as all the beauty on both sides bypassed me.
Anne is flat-chested, slim with no hips, her hair is dark, her complexion not so much pale as it is sallow. Her eyes are so dark as to be completely black. She is not considered attractive.
Anne is an outcast upon her arrival at Henry's court, exiled from France, where she was raised, and where she still considers home---a very, very unpopular opinion, considering the fact that England and France is on the verge of war. Her French fashions, her French hoods, her tendency to speak before she thinks, and her unwanted reputation as Mary's sister does not make Anne any more popular with the people at court.
To say it mildly, Anne is different, with no desire to change. But she knows she has to change; Anne has to cultivate popularity in the court, because she desperately needs a husband, a better one than the man her father wants her to have. James Butler, her intended, is a deplorable man. He is determined to literally beat the life, the living spark, out of Anne once they are married, and she knows it. Anne wants to get married, not because she wants to, but because as a woman, she has no other options than to find a good husband---or rather, one that's less disagreeable than Butler.
Let's face it, Anne's options are extremely limited. As a woman in Tudor time, a good marriage is pretty much the only way out of a worse marriage and a bad family. I do not begrudge Anne's determination to make a good marriage at all. As her brother George so callously and realistically reminded her:
“Don’t make yourself more than you are.” George stands and brushes his doublet. Checks his fingernails. “As a woman, you have no choice. You have to do what your father says. And eventually what your husband says. You can use your feminine wiles to encourage certain outcomes, but at the end of the day, their will is the only will that matters.”
Anne's only worth, sadly, lies between her legs.
I learned early on that my virginity is the only treasure I carry in a royal court. Everything else about me is worthless. Or belongs to my father.
In order to gain popularity at court, the ungainly, gawky, not-beautiful Anne has much to learn. She makes a strategic alliance with the infamous charmer, Thomas Wyatt. He will help her get what she wants---popularity and acceptance, and if she gets it, Anne must come to his bed. Anne is extremely reluctant to make the agreement, but she is running out of time, and Thomas is her only option and ally at court.
Thomas slowly teaches her the graces and the art of seduction. He shows her how to be coquettish, how to attract a man's attention---and keep it. His lessons not only revolve around flirtation, but on courtly behavior as well, as a side lesson in human psychology. Never apologize. Never show weakness. Always be confident.
“When you walk away—and every time you walk away from me—don’t look back.”
Like Orpheus. Like Lot’s wife. Looking back would break the spell.
Anne's character development is wonderful. I loved seeing her transformation. I also absolutely loved the complicated dynamics within her family, I cannot overemphasize that. George and Mary, Anne's brother and sister, are featured prominently in this novel. They are major figures at court, and as such, Anne has ample opportunities to interact with them. We see their family history at play, we get a glimpse into their past, we see how close they were, and how they grew apart at the time. We see the fruits of their overbearing, cruel, manipulative father's behavior on their relationship. We see Anne's love and hate of both her brothers and sister, and her conflicted feelings towards them.
Anne and George's relationship is so interesting. Like a lot of things in this book, it was not what I expected. We have accounts of Anne's extremely closeness with George, but as the years passed, their relationship has changed into a somewhat bitter one. It is not smooth sailing, not a purely loving relationship as I had anticipated from previous Anne Boleyn novels. George loves her---and hates her, for many reasons, none of them simple. Their interaction fluctuates between completely loving---to the point of crossing the boundaries sometimes, to backhanded and backstabbing. Absolutely brilliantly depicted.
I also loved Mary and Anne's relationship. It was a complicated one, because, as we know, Mary was Henry's lover first. As such, Anne has some very strong opinions of Mary, none of it positive. Anne has always envied Mary for her beauty, and for her ability to attract men's attention, from the French king to Henry. Their relationship is a quietly resentful one, but Anne came to change her opinion of Mary as she matures.
A great book for those who love character insights and an intimate portrayal of familial psychology. The plot could use a lot of work.