The Boleyn Wife, Brandy Purdy
I was honored (and lucky!) to get this ARC to review. The book will be out in stores after the first of the year and I have to say, this is a pretty interesting read for you Boleyn fans out there! I give it 3 roses as it was a very interesting, entertaining, and fast paced read but not up there with the best I've ever read.
This is the story of Jane Rochford, wife to George Boleyn, sister-in-law to Anne, and one of the people that helped send the two siblings to the block. Because of her actions her name is forever connected with jealousy, vindictiveness, viciousness, and disloyalty. It covers her life from about the time she first meets and falls in love with George up to her death with Henry's fifth queen, Katherine Howard. Once she sees George she is determined to have him, despite her father's misgivings on the match. She naively believes that once they are married George will fall in love with her and be the loving attentive husband she wants him to be. As the story moves along and she realizes that he wants absolutely nothing to do with her, she fluctuates between loving him and hating him. We see her throughout the novel spying on all the other players from behind a bush, through a keyhole, hiding in a cabinet, etc, hoping to see something that she can use against her sister-in-law. Jane focuses a lot of her anger and hatred on Anne, believing her to be the sole cause of George's lack of attention; this leads her to helping Cromwell in his attack on Anne as she thinks once Anne is out of the picture, George will give her the attention she craves. Jane's sworn testimony to Cromwell helped convict George and Anne of incest and treason. The author throws a very interesting twist into the story at this point concerning the relationship between Cromwell and Jane; this was something I never expected but rather creative and explains, in a way, why Jane was so eager to give testimony against Anne. Of course, Jane is wrong again and is further infuriated when she realizes that George would rather die with his sister than live with her. After their deaths, Jane becomes lady-in-waiting for the next three queens: Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleaves, and Katherine Howard. She especially takes to Katherine as she sees her as the child she was never able to have and hopes that Kat will come to love her. Jane is horrified to learn the kind of life Kat has lead and the type of person she has become and constantly warns her against her behavior with Thomas Culpepper (she is also quite horrified at her behavior with the former queen, Anne of Cleaves). Kat is eventually caught and she and Jane are both sent to the Tower and sentenced to death. Once in the Tower Jane apparently goes a bit mad, thinking she sees both George and Anne's ghosts lurking around to torment her. She was executed immediately after Kat.
It was very interesting to read a story solely from Jane's point of view. Most stories about the Boleyns only mention Jane in passing, as the jealous, hateful wife of George whose lies helped send her husband and sister-in-law to their deaths. In most cases where the story is told from the point of view of someone classified as a villain, a reader, at some point, will sympathize with the character. Her portrayal here will do nothing to incite sympathy from the reader. At the beginning of the novel she just comes across as a bit naive, very obsessive, and only slightly jealous. However, as the story moves along she really becomes nasty and vindictive and all the other horrible adjectives that have been used to describe her. Sometimes she is downright hysterical, going so far as to bite a servant on the heel in one of her rages. I absolutely hated her and found myself laughing each time one of her schemes backfired on her. I firmly believe she got her just desserts in the end. Outside of Jane's feeling, thoughts, and actions, there really isn't a whole lot of description about much of anything else. We see all the major players here, of course, but as this story is really focusing on Jane's life, there isn't much delving into their lives or personalities. The author doesn't show Anne as being such an ambitious, mean person as others have shown her; we actually see her in the beginning trying to be friendly with Jane, though Jane is set to dislike her from the start. Despite this, I thought the book was well written and there really was a deep probing into Jane's motivations and feelings, which was certainly new. We see that the harder she tries to gain George's attention, the more indifferent he becomes (and becomes more emotionally cruel), which leads her to become more jealous and hateful. Once she becomes involved in Katherine's situation she appears as if she is trying to help Kat, trying to warn her against the path she's headed down, but she never does anything to actually stop her. Her knowledge of the situation and her silence helps condemn her. I would caution readers that if you are uncomfortable with some sex scenes, I wouldn't recommend this book. Otherwise, I would certainly recommend this to those that are interested in the Tudors and would like to see another side to the soap opera. It is a much different perspective on a story with which we are so familiar.