Book Review: “Sovereign” by C.J. Sansom

27151979When one thinks about a royal Progress, we often think about the glitz and glam of the royal family traversing the entire country at a leisurely rate to inspire awe for their subjects. However, the Progress of 1541, when Henry VIII and his fifth wife Catherine Howard traveled to the hostile northern part of England, was anything but a casual visit. It was very political as Henry was trying to make the North submit to him after the Pilgrimage of Grace while at the same time he was waiting for a meeting with King James V of Scotland. It is the city of York and during this important Progress that C.J. Sansom shapes his latest adventure with his hunchback lawyer and part-time detective, Matthew Shardlake, in book three of the delightful Shardlake series, “Sovereign”.

We join Matthew Shardlake and his dedicated assistant Jack Barak on the road to York to join the Progress to take care of local petitions for the King. They have received another complicated mission from their new boss, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, to look after the wellbeing of a suspected conspirator in a plot to overthrow Henry VIII’s government, so that he can make it to London for further questioning. Things seem to run as smoothly as it could until a master glazer’s mysterious death reveals secrets that will send Shardlake and Barak into a deadly collision course with some of the most powerful men and women in England during this time.

Sansom has done it again. He has expanded Shardlake’s world outside of London to show that England was not all united for the Tudors. As someone who knows about the Wars of the Roses, to read Sansom’s description of the treacherous and rebellious city of York makes sense completely. It is dark and edgy while the glory of the court is on full display. To add more intrigue to this amazing novel, he adds the mystery of a certain member of the Yorkist family’s origins that could change England forever. I personally do not agree with this theory about this particular person’s origins, but it did not take away from my enjoyment of this book. It just added another layer to this enthralling tale.

Of course, since this novel touches on the relationship between Henry VIII and Catherine Howard, Sansom had to include a way for Shardlake to meet these two, as well as confront figures like Lady Rochford, Culpepper, Dereham, and of course Sir Richard Rich. The way he does this is ingenious. Sansom’s attention to details of the Progress is nothing short of extraordinary. Compared to the first two books, this one is much darker as you are unsure how Shardlake and Barak will ever get out of their dangerous situations, but that is what makes it so remarkable.

It is actually difficult for me to write this review without spoiling the ending so I will keep this short. I thought that “Dark Fire” was my favorite in the series, but now “Sovereign” reigns supreme. That might change as I read the rest of this absorbing series. I will say that if you enjoyed the first two books, you have to continue the journey with Matthew Shardlake and Jack Barak in “Sovereign” by C.J. Sansom.

Book Review: “The Anne Boleyn Collection II” by Claire Ridgway

18588008The Boleyn family have been viewed as social climbers, who only desired power and prestige, in history and novels for centuries; their fall from grace was due to their ambitions. But, is this true? Did Anne Boleyn’s family only care about getting to the top by any means necessary? Were they manipulative, cunning, and cruel like they have been portrayed in dramas and novels? Who were the Boleyns and why have they been so maligned in history? In her second book of this series, “The Anne Boleyn Collection II”, Claire Ridgway of The Anne Boleyn Files examines Anne Boleyn and the truth about her family.

After I had finished the first edition of “The Anne Boleyn Collection”, I did have a conversation with Claire Ridgway about the structure of her book. If you read my review about that particular book, I did have a slight issue with the blog article structure of the book. Claire Ridgway explained that it was intentional as these books are a collection of blog articles from The Anne Boleyn Files, which helped me while reading the second collection of articles.

In my opinion, Ridgway’s structure in this second collection is much better than the first collection. It reads like a book and it is in an order that makes sense. We start our journey with the origins of the Boleyn family, which was fascinating and very informative to read about the different theories of how this family rose to power. Then, it is all about Anne and her life and the myths around her. Compared to her previous book, I found this part well researched and I learned a lot. Anne Boleyn is not exactly my favorite wife of King Henry VIII, but I did feel sympathy for her, and I could see why so many people do defend her while reading about her in this book.

The last section of this book deals with Anne Boleyn’s immediate family. Her father Thomas Boleyn has been viewed as a “power-hungry pimp” who only cared about his position rather than his children, but Ridgway shows that this was not the case. Anne’s mother Elizabeth Boleyn has been a shadowy figure in the past, yet Ridgway dives to find out what kind of parent she was and the rumors around her. Was George Boleyn such a scandalous figure and what was his relationship with his wife Jane Boleyn like? What is the truth about Mary Boleyn’s story? And finally, Ridgway explores the big question about the Boleyns and their religious viewpoints.

This is my favorite book from The Anne Boleyn Collection series so far. Claire Ridgway’s research and writing style has improved significantly between the two books, and it shows. I did thoroughly enjoy this one and I wanted to do my own research into these topics after reading this book. I learned so much about the Boleyns that it made me realize that maybe they were not as bad as novels and dramas have portrayed them. If you think you know the Boleyns, I would suggest you read, “The Anne Boleyn Collection II” by Claire Ridgway. It may change your mind about how you view this hotly debated family of Anne Boleyn.

Book Review: “The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn” by Adrienne Dillard

51a-rKfpABL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_The rise and fall of the Boleyns have been something that has fascinated those who study the Tudor dynasty for centuries. We often view these series of events from the immediate Boleyn family, but what might it have been like for someone who was married to a Boleyn, like Jane Parker Boleyn, the wife of George Boleyn? Jane is often portrayed in literature as a woman who had a tumultuous marriage who sold out her husband when she was interrogated, someone who helped Katherine Howard with her secret liaisons behind Henry VIII’s back, and a woman who suffered from mental illness while in prison. If you take a look at Jane Boleyn’s life from this lens, she sounds like a troubled woman, but what if there was a different side to her? What if she was a good person who loved her husband and his family? That is the Jane Boleyn that Adrienne Dillard wanted to portray in her latest book, “The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn”.

Adrienne Dillard explains how she views Jane Boleyn and why she chose to write this particular story:

When the traces of Jane’s humanity are washed away, it’s easy for later generations to demonize her actions. What could have been perfectly innocent behaviour is seen through the prism of her later behaviour and ultimate ending: death as a traitor to the crown. It is my goal in writing this novel to give Jane some of that humanity back. I want to put a face to a name that has been blackened by assumption for the last five centuries. I want to remind people that Jane wasn’t some spectre lurking in the corner, plotting the downfall of others. She was a sister, a daughter, a wife, a friend, and a loyal servant. She had hopes and dreams. She had flaws and quirks. And to further muddy the waters, we have to consider her mental state. The choices she made may be hard to understand now, but at the moment that she made them, they made sense to her. (Dillard, 350).

Dillard structures her story as a parallel narrative, which is unique and effective when telling Jane’s story as it allows the reader to see the parallels between what happened to the Boleyns during their fall and Jane’s own fall. We are first introduced to Jane as she enters the Tower of London, awaiting her sentence after being involved with Katherine Howard. While Jane is in the Tower, she has flashbacks to her time with Anne and George Boleyn. Jane’s father wanted her to marry well and so he chose George Boleyn as her husband. To say that Jane was reluctant to marry such a man was an understatement, but as their story progressed, George and Jane grew to love each other, even through the countless miscarriages that Jane suffered.

Jane acts as a perfect “fly on the wall” character as she is a servant in the court of many of Henry VIII’s wives. She cares for not only her sister-in-law Anne Boleyn, but for Katherine of Aragon and it is rather interesting to read how Jane viewed this complex time in English history known as “The Great Matter”. Another great matter discussed throughout this novel is how religion was changing with new, radical theological ideas. Though we are not sure where Jane exactly stood on these issues, it is interesting to see how she might have responded to them.

Adrienne Dillard brought Jane Boleyn’s story from the shadows and illuminates it. By showing Jane as a loving and caring wife, daughter, servant, and friend, Dillard gives her readers a different perspective towards this captivating woman who suffered from mental illness. I did not know much about Jane’s story before reading this novel, but now I want to know more about her. If you want an engaging and thought-provoking novel about Jane Boleyn and the Boleyns, I highly recommend, “The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn” by Adrienne Dillard.

Book Review: “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn” by Alison Weir

6282683Anne Boleyn, the  second wife of Henry VIII and the mother of Elizabeth I. Most of us know her story of how she fell in love with Henry VIII and how their relationship changed England forever as Henry broke off with Rome in order to get a divorce from his first wife Katherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne. Unfortunately, when Anne couldn’t give Henry the son he so desired, their love began to fade. Anne Boleyn’s story ends in tragedy as she was accused of having multiple affairs, plotting the death of Henry VIII, and witchcraft, Anne was found guilty and was killed. Her fall happened in May 1536, a month that changed everything, but how much of these charges are true? Did she indeed have these affairs? Did she plot to kill her husband? What is the truth behind her fall? These are the questions that Alison Weir try to answer in her book “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn.”

Alison Weir states that:

In assessing Anne’s character and impact on history, we should ask ourselves how she would be viewed today if she had not perished on the scaffold. Her end was one of the most dramatic and shocking episodes in English history, her last days the best documented period of her life, vividly described in the sources, while the powerful image of her on the scaffold, courageously facing a horrible death, has overlaid all previous conceptions of her. (Weir, 337-338).

Weir begins her book with the May Day joust of 1536, when Henry VIII abruptly left Anne all alone. A few months before, Anne had her last miscarriage, unable to provide Henry the son that he so desired. Henry’s attention began to wander towards Jane Seymour, even though, at this time, he still had feelings for Anne. After Katherine of Aragon’s death, a few weeks before the miscarriage,  Anne’s enemies began to make their moves. Anne had many enemies in court and the entire country was against her in her role in the divorce of Henry and Katherine of Aragon, who was extremely popular.Cromwell, who despised Anne, planned a way to get Anne off the throne with the help of Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador to England for Charles V.

Cromwell had enlisted the help of Anne’s servants, including her sister-in-law Anne Boleyn, to make a tale of scandal. The story goes that Anne had affairs with five men: Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, Sir William Brereton, Mark Smeaton, and her brother George Boleyn. Alison Weir explores the validity of the claims of the affairs as well as the details of the trials. Of course, the trials did not go in a way that was what we would now today consider “fair” and the sentence of death was passed on all of the accused. Anne Boleyn and the men accused with her are executed. The only legacy Anne left behind was her daughter, who would become Queen Elizabeth I.

I have been a fan of Alison Weir’s for years. I love the amount of details that she puts into her books and how both her fiction and non-fiction books are so easy to read. “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn” follows this trend. For me, Anne Boleyn has been one of those people in the Tudor time  that really has not interested me. That was until I read this book. The story of her fall is so dramatic and quick that it leaves a lot of intriguing questions about if Anne and the men who fell with her were indeed innocent. “The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn” by Alison Weir is such a fascinating read for anyone who is interested in Anne Boleyn and her fall from grace.