My thanks to NetGalley for a copy of this book for review. This one I picked because it was set in Tudor England, Henry VIII’s court to be specific, and told through the eyes of young Catherine ‘Kate’ Carey, daughter of Mary Boleyn, and Anne’s niece.
Kate Carey is disgruntled with her life at home with her mother and stepfather, Will Stafford, perplexed at why her mother married so much beneath her, and why she has to stay home with her new step brother and sister while her brother Henry is at court. When finally, she gets permission to go to court, she finds life there completely unlike what she had expected. Danger and treachery lie at every step, every unguarded word, every friendship even, can in the blink of an eye spell doom. For a young girl like Kate, despite her position, the court isn’t the safest of places either (this wasn’t something I’d realised from the other books I’ve read set in Tudor England). Life isn’t much rosier for her aunt the Queen, as Kate also finds for Anne hasn’t yet given the King his heir, and her past ally Cromwell is now her enemy awaiting his chance to bring her down for they no longer see eye to eye. As she navigates through the court in the last five months of Anne’s life, Kate has to grow up all too soon, facing truths of her own life, and supporting her aunt, who she loves very much, and who loves her in turn through the very heavy trials that lie ahead, the very heaviest one among them.
I thought the author did a great job of telling Anne’s tale from Kate Carey’s perspective, and gives us a credible portrayal of the world of Henry’s court through the eyes of a naive fourteen-year-old. Kate is really only a child when she first arrives―a typical adolescent with dreams and also her share of tantrums (of a kind) but once at court she must already start facing truths she had been protected from so far, and face the often ugly reality of life. But on the positive side for her is her love story with her future husband Francis Knollys, who she also meets at court.
Cromwell in this story is also the villain of the piece, certainly like some portrayals I’ve read of him (unlike the more positive image that Hilary Mantel has painted in her books) – but one realises in this as in so much historical fiction (or even non-fiction, for that matter), so much depends on perspective―the same person can well be a hero or a villain, depending on whose story is being told.
I also enjoyed the author’s take on Anne Boleyn herself. We see her as a strong, and courageous woman who may have been arrogant, and certainly ambitious but as one who did love her husband, and who wanted really to do something for the country once she was Queen. I also liked the somewhat “feminist” interpretation that the author gave to Anne’s character which was as much responsible for her downfall as were the conspirators plotting to bring her down.
This was a really enjoyable read for me. I wonder why it is classed as YA though―besides of course the fact that it is written from the perspective of a young adult. The fact that it spares us some of the gore (all it cannot), and leaves some things in the shadows didn’t for me necessarily make it YA. Anyone who enjoys historical fiction generally, and fiction set in the Tudor period in particular would enjoy this one. Great read.