I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Published by Kensington on February 25th, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction
From carefree young woman to disillusioned bride, the dazzling lady who would become mother and grandmother to two of history's most infamous queens, has a fascinating story all her own. . .
At sixteen, Elizabeth Howard envisions a glorious life for herself as lady-in-waiting to the future queen, Catherine of Aragon. But when she is forced to marry Thomas Boleyn, a wealthy commoner, Elizabeth is left to stagnate in the countryside while her detested husband pursues his ambitions. There, she raises golden girl Mary, moody George, and ugly duckling Anne—while staving off boredom with a string of admirers. Until Henry VIII takes the throne. . .
When Thomas finally brings his highborn wife to London, Elizabeth indulges in lavish diversions and dalliances—and catches the lusty king's eye. But those who enjoy Henry's fickle favor must also guard against his wrath. For while her husband's machinations bring Elizabeth and her children to the pinnacle of power, the distance to the scaffold is but a short one—and the Boleyn family's fortune may be turning.
The events surrounding King Henry VIII’s “Great Matter” have been rehashed and retold so many times, and is so well loved by historical fiction fans everywhere that it feels as if any author with a penchant for history could sell a book on this subject and have it do rather well. However, with the Boleyn Bride, Brandy Purdy has shrewdly revived the well reiterated tale by placing the narrative with an extremely overlooked and oft-forgotten historical figure: Elizabeth Howard. Wife of Thomas Boleyn, mother to Anne, long serving lady in waiting to Catherine of Aragon, faded former interest of the King, Elizabeth is the perfect candidate for a refreshing perspective.
In the Boleyn Bride, Purdy’s writing style is very much reminiscent of Phillipa Gregory, almost uncannily so. However, Purdy’s writing is free from the incredibly glaring author-held biases that always taint Gregory’s work for me. Certainly, there are strong images and attitudes towards significant historical figures constructed within this book, but it is evident these biases come from Elizabeth and her feelings, rather than from a writer who simply cannot remove personal lens from her material. Indeed, Elizabeth’s vitriolic hatred for her husband and those who brought death to her children is constructed with sincerity.
The construction of Elizabeth is interesting, for as the actions and choices and thoughts of her life are unfurled she is not a likable individual – yet she is the one presenting her life to the reader in such a critical, jaded fashion. Does it make a character more or less likable for them to acknowledge their own avaricious, selfish, promiscuous and unbecoming behaviour? Do we condemn Elizabeth’s character for her candidness about her dalliances, her lack of maternal instinct, her hatred and her snobbery? I feel not. I enjoyed her all the same!
My largest complaint about this book is its repetitiveness. I very quickly lost count of the overused phrase, “Bullen – I mean Boleyn!”, which, while admittedly made a strong point of Elizabeth’s ire for her husband, grew tiresome. I also found the predictability of Elizabeth’s visitation to her star-crossed and oddly unfitting doll maker lover after every major event too repetitive, particularly as it added nothing to the story. Her lover, Remi, scarce had personality or insight to provide, so these visits simply became an unproductive motif.
Overall, The Boleyn Bride is an enjoyable read and refreshing retelling of a story heard many times. Brandy Purdy demonstrates great skill as a writer, but could have benefited from less redundancy.