There are two ways to go about this review, and honestly it’s a toss up between what I was hoping for and what I was expecting. What I was hoping for was that the author’s claims of historical accuracy were correct… which some of them were, from a certain point of view, largely in regards to when certain events happened on the timeline. Accuracy of personality, motivation, and accepted facts… not so much. What I was expecting was “ye olde bodice ripper” based on the perceptions of Henry, Anne, and Mary that are prevalent because of novels like this and the movies on which they are based. What I got was more of the latter, and a mixed bag regarding the former. I’m willing to accept that history belongs to everyone, not just those with degrees, but there is a far cry between claiming historical accuracy and executing it. Much like with Dan Brown, just because you say it’s fact, that doesn’t make it true.
Having said that, I got spoiled by the likes of Tim Powers, who alters absolutely nothing in regard to known facts and tells a new story between the spaces that fit those facts. If you’re not doing that, my preference is simply to stick to the facts. Where facts are in dispute, conjecture is definitely the foundation on which fiction is built. For this reason, I chose to approach this from the Dan Brown perspective. Ms. Gregory’s writing seems limited in places, and her characters are largely one-note stereotypes based on the absolute worst of the assumptions of the characters involved, but… she has a way of telling the story and making it hers, which is ultimately the make-or-break point for readers. You either like it or you don’t. I’m more forgiving of novelists who do this than I am with movie and TV scriptwriters, but only to the extent that they actually develop something beyond that one-note characters. She didn’t really develop anyone into a living, breathing individual, and that’s the part I’m most surprised and disappointed about. A novel this thick that utilizes such rich subject matter should be about expanding our understanding of some of history’s most interesting personalities, not describing the minutiae of Renaissance-era feminine hygiene and hitting the same notes on the character keys. By comparison, Dan Brown makes up for his disabilities with short chapters, cliffhanger endings, and a snappy prose style that moves the plot forward. Not so with Ms. Gregory, but to her forte, she does have a clear and easy prose style, and she’s obviously content in describing the scenes to you in at least a believable manner. I enjoyed staying in some places, but had I not been listening to the audiobook, I fear it might have taken me months because it lingered too long in spots.
The critiques on the internet are abundant regarding historical deviations, and I don’t really feel the need to spell them out here because they are literally everywhere (thus proving my earlier point about history being for everyone). History is out the window here, claims by the author to the contrary rendered moot by virtually any credible historian with a degree you can name. Unfortunate, but the truth is there for anyone to see for themselves if they’re willing to do the work. It’s best to simply accept this as an alternate universe. If you’re predisposed to be sympathetic to the character of Anne, this probably isn’t your book as that’s probably the biggest point of conjecture made here. Virtually everything Anne was ever accused of is laid out as possibility for your consideration, which might have been interesting if there was any dimension to her beyond being a single-note bitch with delusions of being nearly evil. Even The Tudors TV series was more sympathetic to the understanding of history, and that’s saying something. Henry is a walking hormone, which plays into popular belief and contradicts his real-life prudishness, and Mary is just inconsolably simple-minded, which seems a waste for the novel’s POV character. The story points and character templates only deviate further from here, thus explaining the harshly divided audiences.
In the end, curiosity is satisfied, and I can at least understand which audience it’s for. It’s just not me.