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review 2020-06-02 09:57
Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen (Six Tudor Queens #3)
Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen - Alison Weir

Not much is known about King Henry’s third wife, so Weir had to rely on her imagination more than in previous books, and I found her imagination somewhat lacking. She portrays Jane as a pious anti church reform woman who once believed she’d been Called to a spiritual life, but gave up on her dream of being a nun in favor of a posting in Queen Katherine’s household at Court. The nun thing is an invention of Weir’s and doesn’t really add much to the story other than to unnecessarily reinforce Jane’s piousness. This piousness is referenced again and again, but rather than portray Jane as a straight-laced goody-two-shoes, Weir tried to make her more complex. Which is how we get a Jane that loves Queen Katherine and hates Anne Boleyn for having an affair with the King (among other reasons), and later justifies her own affair with the King by telling herself that his marriage to Anne wasn’t legitimate and therefor it’s not adultery. (It’s still fornication, but pious Jane doesn’t bat an eye at that. It’s true love, so God will totes understand.) She feels somewhat responsible for Anne’s ultimate fate and is haunted by her specter (literally—she starts seeing an Anne-shaped shadow in her bedchamber at night), but not even a mild ghost infestation can spice up the blandest of Henry’s wives. Basically, boring queen = boring book. Without a truly interesting character to distract me, I was painfully aware that Weir’s prose isn’t much more than a checklist of historical events as she thinks her version of Jane would have perceived them.

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review 2019-07-23 09:32
Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession (Six Tudor Queens #2)
Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession - Alison Weir

In the first book of the series, Weir’s Katherine of Aragon saw Anne Boleyn as a petty, vindictive avatar of evil incarnate. I was super curious how Weir would depict Anne in her book. Every one’s the hero of their own story, so how would this historical “villain” see herself? I’m not sure how Weir feels about Anne Boleyn personally, but for fictional purposes she seems to have taken a more sympathetic stance than historians usually do.


Weir’s Anne Boleyn is a complicated woman. She’s skilled in “the game of courtly love” (or “harmless flirting” as it were) and also zealously guards her virginity. She’s a feminist who wants to see more women in positions of power. She chafes under the double standards women are subjected to (which is a nice touch considering one of those double standards gets her executed for adultery while her serial philanderer husband is free to marry his new mistress). She has no romantic feelings and little respect for Henry VIII and doesn’t try to attract his notice, but when he notices her anyway and relentlessly pursues her (for years) she decides “What the hell, I’m gonna get me a crown and be one of those women in positions of power I want to see more of. And I’ll make Henry reform the super corrupt Church while I’m at it.”


She then proceeds to nag her way into a crown and then nag her way straight back out of it. Anne sees what a shrew she’s becoming, and she occasionally tries to correct her behavior. But as Henry’s divorce proceedings drag on year after year, and as her enemies begin to vastly outnumber her friends, the strain of her increasingly untenable position erodes her self-control until there’s almost nothing left but her sharp tongue and bitterness. Her favorite nagging subjects involve punishing people she feels have wronged her, and considering her targets include some of Henry’s favorite people on the planet, it’s quite amazing to me that he didn’t kick her to the curb long before he found himself threatening his first wife and daughter, executing his most loyal advisors, and risking excommunication by the pope and war with his in-laws.


The overlap of this book with Katherine’s manages to be interesting rather than repetitive, though I’m not sure I’d feel the same if I’d read the two back to back. Events of course look slightly different from Anne’s point of view. I liked Anne’s story more than Katherine’s for the simple fact that Anne was more proactive and lived a more interesting life. Five hundred pages of waiting and scheming beats five hundred pages of waiting and praying.


I’m anticipating Jane Seymour’s book will overlap both previous books as she served both queens as a lady in waiting. Weir’s Anne Boleyn declared her someone who was “sly, deceitful and never had a word to say for herself!” I’m looking forward to seeing how she’s portrayed, and how she feels about being the next chosen one after personally witnessing Henry getting rid of two wives in increasingly cruel ways.

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review 2019-06-05 11:15
Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen
Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen: A Novel (Six Tudor Queens) - Alison Weir

This is heavy on the history, light on the fiction, in direct contrast to other Tudor-era historical fiction I’ve read. There’s no plot per se, just a slightly fictionalized account of Katherine’s life from her coming to England to her death. A lot of it reads like Weir is checking things off a timeline. Katherine went to this place on this date. She wrote this letter to this correspondent. The court gossip was this. The political climate was this. So-and-so’s star was rising while Such-and-such was out of favor. It’s interspersed with Katherine’s thoughts and feelings and conversations, but it’s not structured like your typical three-act novel. The lack of rising and falling action results in a plodding pace that makes the book feel much longer than it is. It’s good history, but it’s meh storytelling.


Weir portrays Katherine as a religious, loyal, loving, and largely oblivious wife. Katherine is always the last to know about her husband’s infidelities, and she’s completely blindsided by Henry seeking a divorce, having had no inkling of his lengthy pursuit of Anne Boleyn. Speaking of Anne, I am super curious about how Weir portrays her in the next book. In Katherine’s eyes she was a malicious, vindictive spawn of Satan out to drag the whole of England down to Hell by means of religious reform and her wily king-seducing ways.

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text 2019-06-03 07:37
Reading progress update: I've read 68%.
Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen: A Novel (Six Tudor Queens) - Alison Weir

After a few miscarriages and stillbirths . . .


Katherine: Oh woe! God is punishing us because I was your brother’s wife, though the marriage was never consummated!


Henry: Nonsense, woman! We have a papal dispensation! We’re totes okay with God!


Years later, when Henry wants a divorce . . .


Henry: Oh woe! Our sons all died and you are now barren because I sinned against God by marrying my brother’s wife!


Katherine: No ways, we totes had that papal dispensation, which covers our asses whether my first marriage was consummated or not, which it totally wasn’t. I AM YOUR ONE TRUE WIFE WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME ANYMORE?!?!


Henry: It’s totes not because I want to bang Anne Boleyn and she won’t let me unless we’re married. OUR MARRIAGE IS INVALID OH HOW MY CONSCIENCE PRICKS ME SUDDENLY AFTER 18 YEARS OF TOTAL CERTAINTY!!!!


This double about-face was brought to you by some interesting characterization choices which I’m not entirely sure were deliberate. Henry’s 180 makes sense, as he wants male heirs and Anne Boleyn’s ass and any excuse will do. Katherine’s is less convincing, since Weir has shown her agonizing over every possible sin God could be punishing her for after each miscarriage/stillbirth/infant death. Unless I missed it, Katherine doesn’t even have a moment of doubt when Henry throws her old fears in her face, which is at odds with the walking stomach ulcer of worry that she's being portrayed as. Even if she’s projecting certainty out of desperation to preserve the legitimacy of her marriage and her daughter’s birth, shouldn’t there be more to her inner struggle than “I love my husband but he’s betrayed me and I’m sure it’s all Wolsey’s doing”?


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text 2019-05-29 06:16
Reading progress update: I've read 26%.
Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen: A Novel (Six Tudor Queens) - Alison Weir

After years of delay, Katherine and Henry are discussing their upcoming marriage and payment of Katherine’s dowry.

“Sir,” she faltered, “part of it was to be paid in jewels and plate. I had to sell some, to buy food and other necessities.”


Henry leaned forward and kissed her. “We will not waste time over trifles,” he reassured her. “The plate and jewels are of no importance.”


And with those few words he banished the anxiety that had been consuming her for years.

And with those few words, he banished the conflict that’s been driving the whole novel since the first mention of the plate and jewels at the beginning. If this really is the end of Jewel and Plategate, I’m going to have to tear up my letter to the publisher demanding this book be retitled as Katherine of Aragon’s Dowry, The True MacGuffin.

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