Monday, 3 March 2014

Book Review: The Queen of Subtleties by Suzannah Dunn

In The Queen of Subtleties, Suzannah Dunn reimagines the rise and fall of the tragic queen through two alternating voices: that of Anne herself, who is penning a letter to her young daughter on the eve of her execution, and Lucy Cornwallis, the king’s confectioner. An employee of the highest status, Lucy is responsible for creating the sculpted sugar centerpieces that adorn each of the feasts marking Anne’s ascent in the king’s favor. They also share another link of which neither woman is aware: the lovely Mark Smeaton, wunderkind musician—the innocent on whom, ultimately, Anne’s downfall hinges.

My Review: 
This is the second book by this author that I have tried and the second one that I am disappointed with. Yet this one had the potential to be a good book, so I'm even more frustrated with it.

The story is told from two viewpoints-Lucy, the royal sweet maker, and Anne Boleyn writing a letter on the eve of her execution to her beloved daughter Elizabeth. And this was the immediate problem with the book. The chapters featuring Anne's story were very enjoyable and I rattled along in the story, quite happy with what I was reading. I didn't really mind the more modern language...I found it amusing when Anne was using f bombs to Henry like a harpie! I always like reading novels about Anne because she is such a fascinating woman and this version was no different. But then we were back to Lucy's chapter and I was nearly slipping into a coma with the boredom.

Lucy was endlessly in the kitchen making something sweet for Henry while the whining figure of Mark Smeaton hung around there, moaning on about how Henry treated Anne. What the hell was the point in this story? Lucy never did anything interesting, she was boring and Smeaton came across as being a complete clown who seemed to have plenty time to waste hanging around the kitchen instead of doing his job as a musician. Every time we left Anne to go back to Lucy and Mark, I started to yawn. By the third Lucy chapter, I decided to just skip these chapters and concentrate on reading about Anne. The other serious irritation was the timeline as we changed chapters. You read about Lucy and Mark in 1535 discussing Henry's affair with Madge when Anne was pregnant, then the next chapter goes back to Anne in 1527 when Henry first mentions divorcing Catherine. So there is no flow to the story, no consistancy and it just felt like a mess to me.

And then we had the name changes which really did my head in. The author explains that she has changed names to avoid confusion or the use of dated names. OK I think the readers understand the difference between Henry the King, Henry Percy the lover and Henry Norris, the alleged adulterer! As for the author's aversion to using dated names, this turned the book into a farce. We had Harry for Henry, Tommy Wyatt, Franky Weston, Betsy Blount instead of Bessie, Meg instead of Madge, Billy Brereton...oh please! Just use the correct names already! Every time 'Nick' or 'Charlie' was mentioned I had to stop and think who this was again. Very confusing indeed. And there was the deliberate invention for no apparent reason of having Henry Norris telling Anne about Henry's fall instead of the Duke of Norfolk. For a start, Norris was one of the King's closest servants and would have been attending the injured King, not giving news like that to the Queen.

I would've given it three stars for the Anne Boleyn story but the Lucy non story barely deserves a mention, never mind a star so I cannot give the whole book more than two. Disappointing Tudor novel. 
star rating photo: Two Star Rating 2stars.png

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