Thursday, 14 May 2015

Book Review: Brief Gaudy Hour by Margaret Campbell Barnes

The enigmatic Anne Boleyn comes to life in this charming, brilliant portrayal by acclaimed British novelist Margaret Campbell Barnes. 

The infamous love of King Henry VIII and the mother of Queen Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn undertook a rocky journey from innocent courtier to powerful Queen of England. A meticulous researcher, Margaret Campbell Barnes immerses readers in this intrigue and in the lush, glittery world of the Tudor Court. The beauty and charms of Anne Boleyn bewitched the most powerful man in the world, King Henry VIII, but her resourcefulness and cleverness were not enough to stop the malice of her enemies. Her swift rise to power quickly became her own undoing.

The author brings to light Boleyn's humanity and courage, giving an intimate look at a young woman struggling to find her own way in a world dominated by men and adversaries. 

My Review:
I always approach a new book about Anne Boleyn wondering which aspects of her life or personality are going to be be followed and which will be played with. It is part of the fun of Tudor fiction! In this case, the author is using Anne as the older sister, being 18 when she served the Queen. I'm personally of the opinion that Anne was the younger sister based on all the non fiction I've read but it doesn't greatly bother me.

Anne's love life is the cental theme to the book and she tries to distance herself from the love that Thomas Wyatt has for her, knowing that he would love and cherish her but also knowing that she would never love him that way. However marrying Thomas is more acceptable than marrying James Butler and being forced to live in Ireland just to gain the Boleyns a title. The book then covers in detail the forbidden relationship between Anne and Henry Percy and Anne's determination to marry him at all costs. I was interested by the author's twist that Anne and Henry did consumate the relationship to make the betrothal stand in law but as she is about to confess it to her father to get his support, the bombshell is dropped that the King wants Anne and she wisely says nothing for fear of Henry Percy's life.

Anne in this book is a very colourful character. We see her affection for her brother, Thomas and his sister, her first love for Henry and her rage and fury at being forced to part from him. She goes into deep depression especially on hearing that Henry has been forced to Mary Talbot. She is determined to stay faithful to him, and equally determined to defy her family and ignore the King. We see her soften towards the King when she gradually gets to know him but her heart is not with him. The idea of being Queen does grow on her though, with her idea of revenge on Woolsey.

The plot thickens with this author! She adopts the view that Henry was already looking for a way to divorce Katherine before the idea of marrying Anne came along, due to French concerns over Princess Mary being illegitimate. I also liked the little war between Woolsey and Anne as they battle to discredit each other with the King. Anne's thirst for revenge turns her hard and sharp, and she is aware that she is not always being a nice person now.. She is still obsessed with her first love and it is only when she meets him after Woolsey's downfall that she realises how far apart they now are.

One of the best things here was the way Anne's anger and spite affected her husband. Anne herself realises that she has turned the jovial King into a man who is cruel to the wife and daughter he used to love. Where he was willing to give them small concessions, the jealous and bitter Anne who wanted to win so much, was on his back until he agreed to do her bidding instead. I liked that Anne was aware that what she was doing was needlessly cruel but she just couldn't seem to stop herself. By persuading the King that Woolsey had plotted against him, the King became paranoid, seeing plots everywhere and becoming a very different man. Anne tries to salvage things by making an effort with Mary but of course is rebuffed by the angry young woman. This was extremely well written and I enjoyed seeing all the good and bad sides to Anne and I feel that this made her character complex and you could really see what she was thinking and feeling.

When Anne loses their unborn boy after the King's affair and accident, Anne declares that she never loved him and he wasn't her first lover. This puts the King into a black mood that Anne cannot drag him from and she knows that she is in trouble. This was another interesting twist, used to explain why the King wanted her dead instead of just divorced.

I really enjoyed this book with Anne's wonderful portrayal. All of her family and friends relationships are explored nicely-her devoted brother and the sister who never did anything right, the sulking Smeaton who wants her love, the spiteful Jane Parker who couldn't wait to spread her poison, her nasty Uncle Norfolk who was happy to bring her down, her ambitious father and scheming maid, the besotted Thomas Wyatt...the supporting cast were beautifully written to give real depth to the various plots.

This was another well written Tudor novel which plants you in the middle of the intrigue as if you were really there. I've really enjoyed the two books I've read by this author, who is one of the best Tudor storytellers that I've read. Highly recommended.

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