The Boleyn Wife by Brandy Purdy
“Another Tudor book?” you’re probably thinking, “I thought you had Tudor fatigue?” Well, yes, I sort of do, but I agreed to review this book before I said that. Plus, even though I have Tudor-fatigue, I still find it almost impossible to pass them by. In fact, I just requested another one. But I’m not just taking straight Tudor books anymore, they have to have an angle. The one I just requested centers around Elizabeth’s governess, and “The Boleyn Wife” is told from the perspective of Jane Boleyn.
Jane loves her husband George Boleyn beyond all reason. Unfortunately, the only woman he has eyes for is his sister Anne who is being courted by King Henry. Most of you know the story from there: Henry changes the religion of England to divorce his wife and marry Anne, Anne fails to produce sons and gets on Henry’s nerves, Henry looks for a way to get rid of Anne and Jane provides him with testimony that sends Anne, George, and others to their deaths. Three queens later, Jane helps Katherine Howard cuckold Henry with Thomas Culpepper and ends up in the Tower and on the block herself.
I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it kept me very engaged, especially considering it is the umpteenth book about the Tudors I’ve read. On the other hand, there were certain things that really drew me out of the story. At one point Mary Boleyn is exiled to Hever pregnant with Henry’s child, a few pages later she is back at court participating in a masque with Anne. It wasn’t entirely clear how much time had passed, so it may have been that her exile had ended, but that wasn’t explained and confused for a moment. It also surprised me that Jane Boleyn would describe Jane Seymour as ‘housewifely,’ but looking into it, ‘housewife’ has evidently been in use since the 13th century, so I suppose that is not anachronistic as it originally seemed to me.
I’d say I would have really enjoyed it overall, but there were a couple of things that really bothered me. The repetition of the untrue rumor of Anne having a sixth finger is getting really old, and I wish novelists would stop repeating it. Then there was Jane Boleyn having Thomas Cromwell’s child. And Katherine Howard and Anne of Cleves as lovers. Those last two things almost made me wish the book had ended with Anne and George’s deaths.
I’m really torn, “The Boleyn Wife” was well-written and engaging, but there were some crazy additions that out-Philippa Gregory’d Philippa Gregory that really bugged me. If you don’t mind some pretty significant liberties taken with your historical fiction, then you’ll probably enjoy this book.