Book Review: “A Wider World” by Karen Heenan

56860771._SY475_The year is 1558, and Queen Mary I is dying. England is engaged in a war between the Reformation and Catholicism. Caught in the middle is an older man named Robin Lewis, who is being taken to London to face his death as a heretic. Fearful that his story may never be told, Robin Lewis tells his captor his tale through the reigns of three Tudor rulers, Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary I. Can his story save his life from certain destruction, or is Robin doomed for all eternity? This is the premise of Karen Heenan’s second book in The Tudor Court series, “A Wider World.”

I want to thank Karen Heenan for sending me a copy of this book. I really enjoyed her first novel, “Songbird,” so I was looking forward to seeing where Heenan would take the series.

We have met Robin Lewis in “Songbird” as the rival of Bess and the stuck-up kid in Music. We don’t see much of his story in the first novel. Heenan has decided to take this side character that is a bit polarizing and write a novel about his life, which I love.

It is a bold choice to start a novel with the protagonist being sentenced to death for being a heretic, but the way Heenan structures this story is brilliant. Heenan begins her novel with Robin’s arrest and his captor, William Hawkins, taking him from the countryside to London to be locked in the Tower. Robin acts like a Tudor Scheherazade to delay the inevitable, telling his story through flashbacks to Hawkins.

What makes this story so unique are those flashbacks that are so vivid and filled with men and women that shaped Robin into the man that he became. Robin is a bookworm who prefers the company of texts to other people, so to see him interact with others is just a delight. They include brothers of a monastery, a servant named Seb, and a beautiful Italian woman named Bianca, who shared Robin’s love of learning. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Tudor novel without famous figures such as Wolsey, Cromwell, and Holbein. Heenan uses these figures as secondary characters to enhance Robin’s story.

At the heart of this novel is the dissolution of the monasteries and Robin’s travels abroad, especially his stops in Italy. Although Cromwell forces Robin to help dissolve the monasteries, his past with monks makes him question the assignment he has been given. Robin’s faith and his relationships with the church in England and Italy are very distinct and shape how he views the charges brought against him at the beginning of this novel.

Heenan has once again made a delightful tale of struggles inside the Tudor court by someone on the sidelines. The blending of English history with elements from other cultures was inspiring. Weave current events with a character’s past is extremely difficult, yet Heenan does it seamlessly. This enchanting novel is the perfect sequel to “Songbird.” If you are a fan of Tudor historical fiction, “A Wider World” is a must-read.

Book Review: “Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey” by Nicola Tallis

39330966._SY475_“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” This famous quote from William Shakespeare’s play Henry IV, Part III has been used throughout the centuries to describe how difficult it is to rule a country for any duration of time. Most kings and queens of the past lasted for a few years, but there was one queen who lasted for a handful of days. She was the successor of Henry VIII’s only male son, King Edward VI, and was meant to replace his eldest half-sister, who would become Queen Mary I. It was a battle between Protestantism and Catholicism with a 17-year-old scholar caught in the middle. Her name was Lady Jane Grey, but many refer to her as the “Nine Day Queen of England”. Lady Jane Grey’s tragically short story, how she became queen, and the consequences of her reign are discussed thoroughly in Nicola Tallis’ beautifully written debut biography, “Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey”.

I have been a fan of Nicola Tallis’ other biographies, “Uncrowned Queen: The Fateful Life of Margaret Beaufort, Tudor Monarch” and “Elizabeth’s Rival: The Tumultuous Life of the Countess of Leicester: The Romance and Conspiracy that Threatened Queen Elizabeth’s Court”. I had heard about this one through recommendations from other Tudor history fans, so naturally, I wanted to give it a try. Lady Jane Grey has been one of those historical figures that I have felt sympathy for in the past and I wanted to learn more about her life.

Lady Jane Grey was born into a royal family full of fighting for the throne of England and for the right to either be Protestant or Catholic. She was the eldest daughter of Henry and Frances Grey. It was through her mother Frances that Jane had a claim to the throne because Frances Grey was the daughter of Mary Tudor, the younger sister of Henry VIII, and Charles Brandon. If Frances and Henry Grey had sons, we would not have to talk about Jane’s claim to the throne, but Jane had two sisters, Katherine and Mary Grey. Jane was a rather unusual royal girl because she was not concerned about who she would one day marry. Lady Jane Grey has been known throughout history as a young scholar and a martyr for Protestantism. Her zeal for learning is so admirable and relatable. It makes you really wonder what her life might have been like if she had not been coerced to become Queen of England.

Unfortunately, on his deathbed Jane’s cousin King Edward VI declared that Lady Jane Grey would be his heir, not his eldest half-sister Mary, who his father had named as Edward’s heir if Edward had no children of his own. Jane never coveted the throne, but her father-in-law, John Dudley 1st Duke of Northumberland saw the opportunity to make his son Guildford king of England. It was not the role that Jane wanted in her life, but she was outspoken and courageous about things that mattered to her, even as she approached the scaffold that would seal her fate on earth.

Tallis’ writing style and her attention to detail brought Jane out of the shadows to uncover the truth behind the myths that surrounded her young life. This biography could have easily become a Mary vs. Jane book, but Tallis took the utmost care to make sure it was balanced for both women. It was dynamic and thoughtful, full of drama and revelations of the life of Lady Jane Grey. In short, it is a magnificent biography of one of the Tudor monarchs whose reign was quickly forgotten. Jane may have been a scholar, a lady, and a martyr, but she should also be remembered for another position she held in life. Jane was a Queen of England. If you want a stunning biography about Lady Jane Grey, I highly suggest you read, “Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey” by Nicola Tallis.