Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Boleyn Bride by Brandy Purdy

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 15, 2014

From carefree young woman to disillusioned bride, the dazzling lady who would become mother and grandmother to two of history's most infamous queens, has a fascinating story all her own... At sixteen, Elizabeth Howard envisions a glorious life for herself as lady-in-waiting to the future queen, Catherine of Aragon. But when she is forced to marry Thomas Boleyn, a wealthy commoner, Elizabeth is left to stagnate in the countryside while her detested husband pursues his ambitions. There, she raises golden girl Mary, moody George, and ugly duckling Anne—while staving off boredom with a string of admirers. Until Henry VIII takes the throne.. When Thomas finally brings his highborn wife to London, Elizabeth indulges in lavish diversions and dalliances—and catches the lusty king's eye. But those who enjoy Henry's fickle favor must also guard against his wrath. For while her husband's machinations bring Elizabeth and her children to the pinnacle of power, the distance to the scaffold is but a short one—and the Boleyn family's fortune may be turning...

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Scarlett O'Hara!

Sorry folks, couldn't help it. I look at this cover and my mind jumps immediately to Vivian Leigh and Max Steiner's iconic accompaniment. Probably not what the jacket artist was going for, but that's neither here nor there. 

Far removed from the reconstruction of the American South, Brandy Purdy's The Boleyn Bride is actually a fictional chronicle of Elizabeth Howard - wife of the first Earl of Wiltshire, mother of the Marquess of Pembroke and grandmother of Queen Elizabeth I. Usually regulated to the sidelines, Purdy's latest novel turns the spotlight on Lady Boleyn, in an attempt to illuminate her oft forgotten role Henry VIII's "great matter".

Like most who read Tudor era fiction, I've seen this story a hundred times, but even so, I found the idea of seeing it from a nontraditional point of view intensely fascinating. Historically speaking, we know very little about Anne's mother and I'd hoped Purdy's depiction would offer perspective, both on her character and that of Henry's court. 

Unfortunately, Purdy's tendency to characterize Elizabeth as an outside observer left me rather underwhelmed. With rare exception she didn't feel like the lead character in this story, reading more like a Watson than a Holmes if you take my meaning. Don't get me wrong, I loved the prologue, epilogue and Elizabeth's romance with Remi Jouet, but the rest of the narrative felt much like any other novel of Anne's rise and fall. 

Distanced as she is from her more illustrious relations, Elizabeth proves a fickle narrator, but her inconstant nature make her all the more difficult to understand. At times it seems Elizabeth's sole motivation is to revenge herself on Thomas, but the Boleyn patriarch spends much of the narrative absent from both her side and conscious. She claims no satisfaction in motherhood, yet is emotionally devastated at the respective fates of her children. A walking contradiction, Purdy's characterization lacked the coherency I feel necessary in a leading lady. 

A light and flirtatious fiction, The Boleyn Bride has its moments and will certainly be appreciated by fans of Tudor era fiction, but despite the originality of Purdy's angle, I think the final product more fluff than substance. 

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Did someone spy me, a slender, black-haired woman in the shadows indulging in some quick and indiscreet intimacy with Mark Smeaton, and mistake me for Anne because the light was dim or because there was already malice in their mind? Did I unwittingly, with my own indiscretions, help condemn my daughter? I will never know.
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