Six Tudor Queens: Anna of Kleve – Queen of Secrets, Six Tudor Queens 4, Alison Weir
Genre: Historical Fiction
I’ve only read the previous novel, from this series, and adored that. Alison did what I thought was impossible and made me feel sorry for Henry, a man I’d previously though of as simply arrogant and selfish. Sadly in this book we’re back to the man I really don’t like. He’s older, in ill health and yet still sees himself as he was in his prime, and ensures everything revolves around him and what he wants. People, places, church, state, all have to bow to the whims of Henry.
I know little of Anna, except that famous Flanders Mare quote, something Alison says actually appears to have no basis in fact, yet has endured through school teachings.
I really felt for Anna, typical of the time, women had little say in their future, and those with Royal blood were subject to the whims and needs of their families and country. Whether the line Alison has spun for her was true or not ,its very believable, and its easy to see how it could have happened.
I empathised so much with Anna, wanted to do right by her family, by her country, a lady in her prime married off to an ill tempered King,. He’s far older, overweight, poor hygiene, and yet who saw himself as almost Godlike, beyond any reproach, and who expected her to be thankful he’d chosen her. Even doing that he really did her a disservice, with all his exacting demands of which sister to choose.
It meant leaving her family and country for a man who’s already divorced one wife and had another beheaded before being widowed from wife number three. She must have feared, been terrified of getting on his wrong side and yet she accepts her fate, and does her best in every way to please him. She is a genuine Lady, treated her people well, was kind and loving to Henry’s three children, and would have made such a wonderful Queen.
Yet within a short time his wandering eye had lead to him seeking ways of getting rid of her. She’s stuck, accept what he wants, and live, but possibly be killed by her brother if she returns, or stand up to him knowing from past wives experiences he will get his way, whether by divorce anyway and shaming her if she objects, or possibly finding ways of getting rid of her the same way as he did Anne Boleyn.
Its a story that moved me, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as Jane Seymour’s story. I found it dragged in parts, and the huge cast of characters, most of which were unknown to me, became very confusing. Though I loved Anna, and admired the careful path she trod, trying to do right by Kleves and her family, even what was right for England, she had no real hope of success, and that’s clear almost from their first meeting. Its so sad, she just wanted a husband she loved and family of her own, yet was prevented from that very thing by her place in society. Henry, he was horrible here, and the man I felt empathy for in Jane’s story has degenerated into a bitter, surly and lascivious old man.
Much of this story is pure speculation, maybe because she is such a hidden figure in history, barely getting a mention in most places, but it does feel very possible. Sadly apart from that one big thing the rest of the story didn’t really resonate with me, and I felt the story was lost in the morass of characters.
Stars:Three, a well written story which I’m sure many will love, but for me it was a bit of a slog, and not one I’d re-read.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and publisher
The Heart of a King, (The Loves of King Solomon 1-4), Jill Eileen Smith
Well, confession time. I didn’t notice the Christian genre category. I’m not one for reading books in that genre usually but adore historical ones, especially ones set so far back in time. Its fascinating to see how much – and how little – people have changed. Although its termed Christian, its more from the Biblical connection I think, the author isn’t throwing God and Faith as the answer to all life’s issues, but of course being a key biblical figure the story of Solomon and his wives can’t be told without elements of Christianity and Faith. For me, the balance worked perfectly and I enjoyed the story.
Like most folk I mainly thing of Solomon in connection with wisdom, its one of those facts of life, the two are synonymous. I knew little of him as a character and I enjoyed seeing that he was fallible, even though he wanted to be devout.
The taking of so many wives, the way he struggles with first his desire for another woman, and then the need to not upset neighbouring kings by offending them if he refused to take their gift of a daughter for a wife, set against the fact that God specifically prohibits it. It proves he’s genuine to me, we all struggle to find reasons, justifications of we want to do something we know inside is wrong.
It made him feel very real, even though I didn’t like what he was doing. Its that marrying of wive from current perspective, one at a time, preferably just one in life, against the times back then when the more wives a king had the more power he was said to have. He wanted to be a good king, wanted peace but also wanted to stay true to God so he creates justification for his actions, even though he knows its wrong. I didn’t like that aspect of him, how he would just put aside how Namaah, and later his other wives, felt just because he was attracted so someone new. Later in the book it isn’t even chance that draws his eye, he specifically sets out to find women he’s attracted to. I lost respect for him over that.
I hadn’t realised he has so many women either, over 700 wives and 300 consorts!!That’s a lots of excuses….I really felt for Namaah, she knew from the outset he probably would have more wives because of tradition, and yet having converted to his faith she knows God says only one wife. Looking at it from the point of now he seems to me to have been wise in everything but his personal life. Would things have been so bad if he stuck to God’s tenets? Surely God would have given him assistance for peace.
I wasn’t sure how he could justify Egypt and the horses to himself, he doesn’t stop at that first visit and gifts of them, but goes on to buy many more horses, yet he’s so devoted to God who has specified against this very definitely.
As usual there’s the harshness of God back then, who punishes Solomon’s father and mother for their adultery by letting their first child die. Hard on them but what about the poor baby, he’d done nothing? I find that kind of “mercy” hard to take, but the Old Testament is full of such stories. When he kills all the first born sons in Egypt, for example. That doesn’t feel like a Godly thing to do, all those sons from babies to adults, who had done nothing, killed, just like that. I guess that’s still what affects my beliefs now, how can a merciful god allow such terrible atrocities to happen every day? And that’s why I avoid christian books. In this instance I’m glad I missed the genre, because its a story I really enjoyed.
Stars: four, I really enjoyed the story but there was such a lot to pack in that sometimes the necessary gaps in time felt like I’d missed too much.
Arc via Netgalley and publishers
Faithful Traitor, Samantha J Wilcoxson
Genre: Historical Fiction
I love this kind of historical fiction, with roots based in what happened, in events of the time, but taken so that the author fills in missing details. Its speculative, its fiction but well researched and very plausible. I loved the first book, featuring Elizabeth of York, mother to Henry VIII, and this book sees Henry as King, and Margaret Pole as lady in waiting and friend to Catherine, his Queen.
I know little of Margaret other than her Plantagenet connection, and its that faint thread of blood that gives her position in society as cousin to the King, yet also makes life for her and her family so dangerous.
I really felt for her, she had a tumultuous childhood, losing her father and other family suddenly due to twisting alliances, and the tenuous hold the Tudors think they have on the throne.
Its always like that in history, Kings rule by fear, ridding themselves of possible threats by harsh means. It difficult to understand from a modern viewpoint, but harsh though it was I can see that there was little else they could do sometimes. Kind of reminds me of lions, when the males win over an opponent and takeover the herd, first action is to kill all male cubs, so that only their blood flows through the herd. There’s no politics there, just instinctive action, but the parallels to royal history is there, where ascendants promptly dispose of threats however they can. Even the females weren’t exempt.
Margaret wants little more than to live her live in peace, to have her family and ensure their lives successful, but the Plantagenet blood keeps her always in the royal eye and under a threat of suspicion. Of course as Henry ages, discards Catherine and creates his new church fortunes and lives fall on his whims, and Margaret needs to tread a fine line. Play it safe on the earthly life and embrace Henry’s new church, or keep her faith with God, her religion, the one she has known all her life and risk her and her families life? What must she do? She tries so hard to keep her faith and yet keep her family safe too.
It makes me think, what would I do? I’m just glad I didn’t live in those times… Throw in Henry’s lack of a male heir and you can see just how dangerous life was for Margaret and those like her.
I really enjoyed this story, bringing history to live in a readable way through fiction. I really felt there with the families, could mentally see what was happening, and the little things, clothing, buildings, plants even, really brought the period to life. Its those tiny touches that work for me, make the story feel real, I want to feel as if I’m there, a silent onlooker back in time, alongside the characters.
Stars: Five, liked the reminder of how Margaret is connected t the last book, I’d forgotten but when events were mentioned it all came back and it really embraced the sense of continuity in history between the two books. I’m keen to read book three now.
Arc via Netgalley and publishers
Dissolution, C. J. Sansom
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery and thrillers
I love this period in history, so much change going on in politics, state and religion. I’ve read many. many books, and the ones I love best are always like this, ones that make me feel I’m there, among the events, not just a reader but actually in the thick of what’s happening.
I’ve read most of the Shardlake series over the years, but in print form. They are among those I’d read over and over, but sadly all my print books had to go a few years back ( around 2k of them) as eye issues meant I couldn’t read them. Thank heavens for Kindle with its changing font size and background lighting.
So seeing this offered for review reminded me of how much I loved this series. Matthew Shardlake is a great lead character, he’s a very moral person, strongly in favour of reform but somehow naïve considering his profession.
He’s sent down to Scarnsea where the Commissioner investigating the monastery there has been murdered.
Its winter, the journey is hard, the welcome by the monks edges on suspicion. After all they knew the murdered man had come looking for excuses to shut them down but murder? Everyone is on edge, everyone seems to hold secrets, have possible motives and its Matthews job to tease them out and find the truth.
He’s accompanied by Mark Poer, a young man who’s been under his wing so to speak, working in Augmentations. Mark doesn’t like what he’s seen, and Matthew thinks he’s exaggerating, maybe its the hard work, the hours or something, or of course the fact his dalliance with a lady way above him was caught, he can’t believe Marks is right in what he sees happening. He’s promised Mark’s father to set him on the road to a good career, and he’s determined to do his best for Mark, not what he wants necessarily, but what he needs. That sounds harsh but its how life was then, a scrabble to survive and Matthew knows Mark could well end up one of the poor they see so often, in rags, no home, depending on charity for the few scraps of food that keep them alive.
The mystery surrounding the killer is difficult and tangled, no-one seems to have a motive, but several of the inhabitants of the monastery have the opportunity. Commissioner Singleton had been going to meet a monk, though no-one knows who, but the abbot and the monks are keen to believe it must have been an intruder that killed him. The more Matthew learns about the events surrounding the murder the wider the circle seems to get, and then things become even more dangerous.
I love that there are so many suspects, I’ve just decided on one as the culprit along with Matthew, when something happens to throw doubt on them, and this happens over and over.
There are so many secrets, so much going on here in this time of change for everyone. No-one feels safe, no-one actually is safe. Even stray words at the wrong time are enough to condemn someone so everyone is very guarded and that doesn’t help the investigation.
Poor Matthew gets his eyes really opened here by events surrounding Cromwell, a man he fervently believes in and admires. He learns his idol has feet of clay and is shocked, really shocked that he could be so casually callous about certain recent events. The force of what’s going on though has become uncontrollable, and Matthew isn’t in a position to do anything about it. I really feel for him, a good man in a position that puts him front and centre of the change he wanted but which isn’t having the results those like him intended. .
It was easy to feel as if I was back in the 1500’s with Matthew. Often its the little details, the snippets of real history, the day to day events, the food and clothes, the poverty, all those make a book feel very real. CJ Sansom has a real talent for those, for bringing the reader into the story by making the setting so vividly real. For throwing out little clues that send the reader on false tracks, often along with Matthew, for keeping the events wide open to very near the end, and keeping reader guessing who is behind things, and why of course. Rarely does murder happen without motive.
Stars: Five, a solidly written mystery/suspense that I enjoyed reading once more and I think its time for a reread of all of the novels.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and Publishers
The Illumination of Ursula Flight, Anna-Marie Crowhurst
Genre: Historical Fiction , Literary Fiction
I really wanted to like this book, wonderful cover, beautifully written but somehow it was just an OK read for me. Its kind of whimsical, almost fantastical the way its told, but in effect its a story of one poor child married off unhappily, easily taken in by the stories of others.
She’s determined though, and doesn’t stay down but bounces back, full of optimism. Her story is one very familiar to the time where girls and women were almost a sub-class, seen as delicate when it came to learning and education, and the property of the nearest male relative.
I didn’t really like Ursula, even when we first meet her as a toddler, and my feelings didn’t change even as she aged. I did admire her determination though, the way she picked herself up again and again. Sadly hers was the lot that befell many women of the time, where men weren’t expected to be faithful, where silver tongued rakes whispered sweet nothings in ears that were too ready to believe them. As always its the woman that pays the price.
I do like a dip back in history from time to time, and I enjoyed that side of it, but I almost abandoned the book to begin with, as it just didn’t seem to be going anywhere, and I never really came to love the story. I’m glad I read it, the writing style is interesting and kept pulling me back even as I was mulling over whether to stop as the actual story wasn’t working for me.
That’s how it goes sometimes, a beautifully written tale, loved by other readers but which just doesn’t do it for me. Its not the book, its me, a matter where my taste in reading and the story within the novel just don’t meet.
Stars: Three, interesting setting, beautifully told, but the story wasn’t a great one for me.
ARC supplied for review purposes by Netgalley and Publishers