Gregory begins the novel with depicting Mary’s life in Henry VIII’s court. She intricately depicts the facade that all the players of the court undergo to ultimately please the King. Her family’s absolute devotion to their advancement in court is almost horrifying as they become more and more ruthless in their quest to win the King’s favor. Mary becomes the King’s mistress, as she attempts to strike a balance between pleasing him and remaining loyal to Queen Katherine, who is well aware of the King’s antics. Above all, Mary wishes for a life outside of court, as she tires of the incessant game that they play. She has lived the majority of her life at court, and pines to return to Hever, where her son and daughter by Henry reside.
The novel continues with Anne’s assention to power, as she supplants Mary as the King’s favorite and begins to develop an ego that grows just as large as Henry’s appetite for women and food. As she continues on her quest to become Queen, Anne becomes more ruthless, stopping at nothing to ensure that she remains in Henry’s favor. The pace of the novel quickens, and although Mary remains the main character, Anne becomes a central focus. Her insensitivity to everyone around her grows until she becomes downright terrifying, battling back rumors of infidelity that rock the entire court.
Despite knowing the ultimate fate of Anne, it was still incredibly interesting to read Gregory’s take on her life and that of her sister. I found Mary to be an interesting and strong character, who grew into an independent woman who took her life into her own hands. The ways in which she brazenly disobeyed her family to ensure her own happiness in life were really awesome, and I actually found myself rooting for her as she tried to escape the clutches of the court. It continued to amaze me how Anne and Mary’s parents and uncle basically used them as bargaining chips in their bid for the throne.
Although the novel is a bit long at 672 pages, her attention to detail is what held my attention through the beginning and middle of the book. She intricately describes the politics and rules of court life, and weaves quite a bit of history into the story, expanding on the constant desire of England to conquer France and Spain and Henry’s ever-expanding breadth of power within his own country. One thing that did get to me was the length of time it took for the book to reach the climactic end. Knowing a bit about English history I knew what Anne’s fate was, yet it took quite a lot of escalation of the plot to finally reach that point. How it was executed (no pun intended) was really very cool. The way in which we see the plot unfold through Mary’s eyes was a clever twist and something I didn’t see coming. All in all Gregory definitely kept me entertained through and through.
All in all, although I did judge this book by its cover, I’m glad I read though it. It gave me a new perspective on the Tudor era, and opened me to the world of historical fiction!
4 out of 5 Stars