This is the review of the second book in Alison Weir's series, Six Tudor Queens. If you missed the first one, check out the review of Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen.
I said it in the last review. Anne Boleyn's story is Tudor prime time and A King's Obsession, the second book in the Six Tudor Queens series, did not disappoint.
For the most part, in every history book I've ever read, Henry's wives are just side-notes of history - a list of names in a paragraph, not actual people. When they get more than a mention, it's usually to insinuate that they were women to be pitied, they were conniving, or they were merely vessels for the heir Henry desperately wanted.
What I love about Weir's work is that, even though it's fiction, I'm finally seeing a fuller picture of how complicated all of Henry's wives actually were, not to mention the precariousness of their positions. With that said (I am really long winded, wow), let's get to the force of nature that was Anne Boleyn.
The novel begins with 11 year old Anne at Hever Castle, bored and restless. We see her rivalry with older sister Mary and her close bond with younger brother George. We also see Thomas Boleyn as a man who cared only for his upward mobility on the court social ladder.
Anne is sent to Margaret of Austria's court in the Netherlands and Ladies, it sounds like medieval heaven for women. Anne Boleyn was woke before woke was a word (that I hope I'm using correctly). Intellectual conversations about the role and power of women abound between Margaret, Anne, and the other ladies in waiting. This continues a few years later when Anne is sent to join Mary in service to Queen Claude of France. In France she is exposed to all manner of debauchery and in conjunction with her time with Margaret, she has zero tolerance for men not treating women as their own masters. The rape of her sister Mary and King Francis' sister Margueritte (portrayed as Anne's friend and confidant), enraged the young Anne and solidified her early feminist views.
When she came to serve Queen Katherine, Anne was horrified to discover that King Henry had not only raped her sister Mary (who was married by that point) but had also fathered her child before casting her aside. With this secret knowledge in mind, Anne was initially disgusted by Henry's attentions.
In my review of The True Queen I mentioned how I basically thought the portrayal of Henry and Anne on the TV show The Tudors was real. Sure she initially had her ambitions set on him but theirs grew into a passionate love! According to Weir, not so. Anne, having already had her first love ripped away from her by Wolsey (seems like Tudor queens just did not get on with Wolsey), Anne decided she would never love again. While she initially rebuffed Henry's advances, Anne soon realized she liked the idea of power - for her family's prospects and because she was passionate about women's rights and church reform.
This, however, was the part of the story that had painfully slow pacing. I loved the beginning of the book because her early years were a mystery to me other than she had served in the French Court. While I enjoyed seeing the whiny king grovel over her (seriously when you read this you'll wonder how this "fearsome" king got anything done), they were locked in a flirtatious court game for 7 years. It got repetitive.
The rest of the book was extremely anxiety provoking for me. Even though you know her fate, the things Anne went through and Weir's slow, historian pacing provide an inescapable sense of dread. Having finally gotten her title of Queen, Anne chose the motto "The Most Happy" and dutifully submitted to producing an heir. Once Elizabeth was born and Henry's disappointment palpable, Anne's fate was sealed. She grew more paranoid, especially once she found out about new mistresses including Jane Seymour.
Despite her ambition, unlike Katherine, Weir portrays Anne as being willing to step aside to keep her life. Henry's love - once boundless - turns to unadulterated hatred. Charges of treason were drawn up and she was accused of fornicating with five men including her own brother.
Weir has Anne bravely accepting her fate but I implore you: if you are at all squeamish, DO NOT read the last page. It hit me pretty hard.
Overall, I really loved A King's Obsession. I'm at the point in my life where I'm tired of always getting the dude's side of things and it was refreshing to see a portrayal of a strong, smart, feminist woman of that time period. Weir states in the author's note that unlike Katherine, Anne didn't leave many letters and not much is known about her. I sincerely hope that she was an ounce as strong as portrayed here (she brought about the English Reformation so I'm thinking probably). This book is long and at times slowly paced. However, it's a must read for fans of Anne Boleyn and The Tudors in general. It's also interesting to see Anne's view of Katherine having just read Katherine's side of the story.
The third book in the series, Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen, releases in May (check that link for some e-shorts Weir is releasing with the books). Can't wait!