Friday, 27 January 2017

Book Review: Anne Boleyn-A King's Obsession by Alison Weir

The young woman who changed the course of history.

Fresh from the palaces of Burgundy and France, Anne draws attention at the English court, embracing the play of courtly love. But when the King commands, nothing is ever a game. Anne has a spirit worthy of a crown - and the crown is what she seeks. At any price.

ANNE BOLEYN. The second of Henry's Queens. Her story.
History tells us why she died. This powerful novel shows her as she lived.


My Review: 
*I received a free copy of this book from Headline through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

Ever since I first read Philippa Gregory's 'The Other Boleyn Girl' I became fascinated by the Tudors and in particular the Boleyns. I have now read many fiction and non fiction books on the subject and I'm aware of the discussions and disagreements of historians and the way that fiction authors have played with known and disputed facts and gossip to craft their own version of the story each time. It is these differences in each fiction novel that keep the subject interesting and entertaining to read about. This book certainly provided a new slant on this incredible story, something that I am always happy to see.

This book covers the entire Court life of Anne Boleyn, starting with her first Court service with the Archduchess Margaret of Austria where Anne first comes into contact with the new learning and the role that women can play in politics and religion. It opens her eyes to new thoughts and ideas and it is here that she first harbours her thirst for religious reform. I liked getting the chance to read about the Court of the woman who so inspired Anne as most books begin with Anne's life in France. This was a welcome addition, especially the story of Charles Brandon trying to seduce Margaret, which I have only seen briefly in a few books. Seeing it through Anne's eyes was interesting.

Next Anne rejoins her sister Mary to serve the Princess Mary, sister to King Henry and new wife to the King of France. It is here that the petty rivalry and jealousy between the sisters is explored further. Mary is less scholarly than Anne and was upset that her younger sister went to a Court before she did, but it is the beautiful Mary who catches the eye of the men wherever she goes. This novel differs from other books, having Mary claim to be raped by King Francis instead of being his willing mistress, and the Boleyn family being outraged by Mary being dishonoured. The sisters part ways with Mary returning to England in shame and Anne serving Queen Claude and ignoring most of the male advances she receives, while broadening her education.

When the story shifts to the English Court, the sisters are reunited but now Mary is trying to avoid the attentions of King Henry for fear of upsetting her new husband Will Carey. Varying books have Mary as willing mistress sanctioned by the Boleyns but I liked seeing her family initially being horrified by the prospect until it showers fortune on them. It makes it a more complex family problem-not wanting your daughter to be regarded as a whore yet not wishing to anger the King. Anne is trying avoid a husband in James Butler as it means living in Ireland and her eye falls on Henry Percy, which Cardinal Wolsey is determined to put an end to, to Anne's despair. George Boleyn is not thrilled to marry vile Jane Parker. The twisted love lives of the Boleyn siblings is fascinating and Anne is far from happy when King Henry turns his eye to her after discarding Mary. It also explores the paternity of Mary's two children, suggesting her daughter was the King's child.

The story of Anne trying to evade Henry is interesting in that she wants nothing to do with him, feeling guilt over the Queen and having feelings for the married Henry Norris. I liked the addition of this previously unexplored possibility that Anne and Henry Norris were interested in each other but his wife and the King's intentions meant that they could never even consider being together. It added interest to the story and we see so many different sides to Anne in her anguish and despair. It was also a chance to see the jealous Thomas Wyatt stirring up trouble. I was also fascinated by the relationship portrayed here of Anne and Henry as she grows to care for but not love him, thinking that being his Queen would provide her opportunity to go good and hold power. We see details on their shared frustrations over the divorce, the constant fights over the loyalty of Woolsey, Anne fearing her temper and dwindling childbearing years will turn Henry away from her, and Anne tempting Henry into the readings of the new learning. The detail provided goes beyond any other Tudor novel and gets you inside the heads of the characters.

The characters themselves are well developed. Anne loves her brother but is gradually discovering that he is doing some bad things in his treatment of wife Jane, his dealings with other women and what he is prepared to do for the good of his family. I liked seeing him as more of a monster than innocent victim. Her father Thomas Boleyn is ironically less of a monster in this book than usual which was also a change that I enjoyed. It is only in his treatment of Mary that we see his darker side. Henry Norris is usually a background figure so it was good to see plenty of him and Henry Percy featuring in Anne's story. The author does a good job of having Anne relate in different ways to all the men that she will be accused of cheating with and where the gossip comes from. I enjoyed seeing Jane Seymour portrayed as sly instead of naive, Jane Rochford causing trouble wherever she went and Anne's complex relationship with Cromwell.

I liked that most of the detail in the book is more centered on all the relationships and important developments in the plot, rather than endless descriptions of every room, dress and thing we see. I think that we get the perfect balance here, with the author describing what we need to imagine but not giving every single detail of the coronation celebrations, for example. It is very much focused on the characters and plot and that is exactly what I wanted to see in this book. It is the most in depth portrayal of Anne's life and certainly one of the best that I've read.

If you love the Tudors and especially if Anne Boleyn interests you, I certainly recommend this book. I will be buying my own copy at some point and definitely reading the other books in this series.

Read January 2017.
star rating photo: 5 Star Rating 5stars.jpg


  1. I'm reading And I Darken now and it made me realize I like historicals more than I thought! I liked the Anne Boleyn movie a lot so I think I would like this book! You make it sound really good!

    1. Anne Boleyn is just such a fascinating woman-I really can't get enough of books about her! As soon as I see a Tudor series like this, I'm all over it! I'm waiting for Amazon to send book one about Kathrine of Aragon.

  2. Like you, I really became interested in the Tudors after reading The Other Boleyn Girl. Anne Boleyn is such an interesting historical character and I have always wanted to read Alison Weir. Great review!

    1. There is so much drama and scandal around The Tudors that it never gets dull for me. I loved the two Boleyn books of Philippa Gregory!