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Dec 28, 2009

Book Review: The Boleyn Wife by Brandy Purdy

The Boleyn Wife by Brandy Purdy
Publisher: Kensington (January 26, 2010)
Historical Fiction
ISBN-13: 978-0758238443
Review Copy provided by the author
The Burton Review Rating:


Shy, plain Lady Jane Parker feels out of place in Henry VIII's courtly world of glamour and intrigue--until she meets the handsome George Boleyn. Overjoyed when their fathers arrange a match, her dreams of a loving union are waylaid when she meets George's sister, Anne. For George is completely devoted to his sister, and cold and indifferent to his bride. As Anne acquires a wide circle of admirers, including King Henry, Jane's resentment grows. But if becoming Henry's queen makes Anne the most powerful woman in England, it also makes her highly vulnerable. And as Henry, desperate for a male heir, begins to tire of his mercurial wife, the stage is set for the ultimate betrayal...

Encompassing the reigns of five of Henry's queens, THE BOLEYN WIFE is an unforgettable story of ambition, lust, and jealousy, of the power of love to change the course of history, and of the terrible price of revenge.

Tudor fans have long been intrigued by the wife of George Boleyn, Jane Parker, as she was a crucial witness for Thomas Cromwell in condemning George, his sister Queen Anne, and four other men for treason against King Henry VIII. This is the fictional story of Lady Jane Parker, as she first meets George, and begs her father to procure him as a husband for her, and her story lasts until she is also sent to the scaffold, years after her husband.

In this retelling of the Tudor legacy of wives, Brandy Purdy takes the drama and the rumors a step further by adding spice and sexual encounters. Where Philippa Gregory has told a fictional account of the fall of Anne Boleyn and her extended family in The Other Boleyn Girl and The Boleyn Inheritance, Purdy dresses it up with all of the falsehoods that were bandied about, and stretches it beyond my wildest imaginations.

Much to Jane's delight, George and Jane are married as she so fervently wished, but seemingly George's amorous intentions are elsewhere. Ultimately, Jane takes this jealous realization to Thomas Cromwell and secures a reason for King Henry to rid himself of his tiresome wife, Queen Anne. Jane was bent on vengeance, as stated several times in this novel told in a first-person account through Jane, as she was always the one in the background being taunted and ridiculed when all she wanted was to be loved by her husband. She wanted Queen Anne to die, and didn't care the men she also implicated were to die, but she somehow did not believe her husband would also be sent to the block. She merely wanted Anne out of the picture so that she could have George all to herself.

Immediately we are thrust into the typical Boleyn-hating rumors regarding Anne, such as her sixth finger, the 'wen' (witch's mark) on her neck; Anne giving birth to a two-faced monster; Anne's sister Mary's children being Henry's spawn; George being a homo-sexual..and Purdy adds a few more to the pot by having Jane give birth to Cromwell's baby..

And once the Boleyns are out of the picture, Jane is back at court tending to Anna of Cleves and then Katherine Howard. Purdy added for dramatic effect the notion that Jane had met this Katherine when Katherine was an adorable five year old, and thus had developed a mothering nature towards Katherine once she was at court. Katherine is oblivious to this one sweet nature of Jane's, as she blindly cavorts with Thomas Culpepper while she was married to King Henry and thereby seals her doom, along with Jane's, due to her lust.

Purdy ventures not too deeply into the accused incestuous nature of George and Anne's relationship, but this is the only freedom that she does not seem to take. She shows the courtiers of Brereton, Weston, Norris, and musician Smeaton as always doting on Anne and seemingly always at court; Smeaton kissing Anne's hem of her skirt, with all the other gentlemen fawning over Anne at every waking moment, even when she was out of favor with King Henry. The scaffold scenes are all factually wrong, though poignant. The supporting characters of the Tudor court are not dealt with, there were as few names as possible dropped. There is no mention of Jane's own family once she marries George. I would have loved to know how the Parkers felt about George being executed and their daughter being the cause of it. There are many facts that were disregarded for the sake of a good story, and too much sex was included. For instance, we are also privy to Anna of Cleves and Katherine Howard getting it on. And much wasted seed was spilling down legs at various times.

Much like Gregory's writing style, Purdy's own is fast and quick paced, making this a fast read. I hesitate to say 'easy' read.. those readers who like their Tudor novels without excessive copulation will be sorely disappointed; as well as those will be disappointed if you prefer the Tudor era novels to stick closer to the actual facts of the times. Purdy takes as many liberties as possible with this telling of the wives of Henry Tudor, in an attempt to offer an exciting alternative to the standard Tudor fiction. If you have little knowledge of the Tudor era, this read may be less grating on your sensibilities as opposed to the latter. But, if you want the "Oh my GOD!" factor this time around, this one would certainly satiate that need. Especially for the fact that sneaky Jane was absolutely everywhere whenever anything was going on at all. I had to roll my eyes back into my head a few times every time she stealthily left the room so she could go hide in a cupboard and watch what was about to occur.

The Boleyn Wife is available February 2010, as a reissue of Purdy's self-published Vengeance is Mine.