[This review is based on an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) digital edition published by Kensington Books in 2014, and provided by NetGalley.]
Here’s the deal:
By now, we’re all familiar with the story of Anne Boleyn; she enticed King Henry VIII with her beauty, charm, and — some say — witchcraft to become his bride and, therefore, Queen of England. Brandy Purdy has provided a different perspective on Anne’s story: The Boleyn Bride is told from the viewpoint of her mother, Elizabeth. Lady Boleyn is a vain, self-centered woman who adored her eldest daughter, Mary, and her son George, but who despised her “ugly duckling” third child, Anne. Along with her power-hungry husband, Thomas, Elizabeth comes to the Tudor court to serve as a lady-in-waiting to Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and witnesses firsthand Anne’s power grab in an effort to make a name for herself. As both Elizabeth and Thomas state in the novel, “The rise is slow but the fall is fast,” and we stand by as the unwilling mother watches Anne fall from Henry’s good graces toward certain death. How will the Boleyn family handle so much loss?
First of all: I was halfway through the prologue of The Boleyn Bride when I decided I hated Elizabeth Boleyn. By the time I finished the prologue, I knew that the narrative was going to be very “me, me, me”, “I, I, I”. I understood that the story was being told in flashback, and that the prologue described Elizabeth’s way of mourning her dead and lost children, but that didn’t make reading any more interesting. I don’t know what Elizbaeth Boleyn was actually like — if the way she’s described her is in any way accurate or pure speculation — but, if this is who she really was, I wish I’d never met her. I’m a mom, and so is she; my son is my life, and her children were essentially nothing to her. She worried more about her vanity (how her body changed after childbirth, how to keep the grays out of her hair, how much she could tighten her corsets) and about running off to her secret lover at every available chance than she did about raising her children. (Have I mentioned that I don’t like her?)
Aside from Elizabeth Boleyn herself, the story was actually fairly interesting. My one concern was that she spoke of events she wasn’t present for as though she’d seen them with her own eyes. As a reader and a history buff, that kind of narration rings false to me. I feel that if the narrator didn’t witness an event, they shouldn’t be talking about it like they did, and perhaps the story should have been written from a third-person perspective. That being said, the story that was told was a pretty good one, especially when Elizabeth started talking about how her daughter Anne entranced King Henry. I was left feeling for Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, more than I ever had in the past; she’d done nothing to deserve the sudden divorce she was given, and it was inevitable that Henry and Anne’s marriage would fail (regardless of whether you know your history). Elizabeth provided a unique perspective, a front-row seat to the slow rise and rapid fall of Anne Boleyn. Everything else — her other children, Mary and George, her unpleasant marriage, her take on Henry’s other mistresses — was just peanuts compared with that main plotline.
So would I recommend this book?
While not my favorite book, The Boleyn Bride was a decent read. If you have an interest in Anne Boleyn and the Tudor dynasty, you might like it; if the history doesn’t interest you at all, you’ll probably avoid this one. If you do read it, let me know what you think!