by Anne Clinard Barnhill
At the age of fifteen, Lady Margaret Shelton is plucked from obscurity in Great Snoring (snicker) and brought to the court of Henry VIII to serve her cousin, Anne Boleyn. As Anne gains power in court, eventually marrying the king to become King of England, Margaret – or Pretty Madge as everyone calls her – is at her side, the one person Anne trusts with her secrets. But Madge has secrets of her own, for she has fallen in love with the bastard son of Charles Brandon. The two lovebirds are from different social classes, so they cannot be together, but Anne promises to help her favorite cousin. Soon, the hopes and dreams of both women are tied to the queen's ability to bear Henry VIII a son, but when she fails again and again the very survival of Anne and Madge hang in grave peril. Desperate to hang on to the king's affections, Anne proposes that her own cousin seduce Henry VIII. Madge is horrified, for she finds the king repulsive. As the schism between the king and queen grows, it is up to Madge to save Anne, even if it means losing her true love, Arthur Brandon, forever.
Margaret Shelton often appears in books set during the Tudor period, but she's usually a background character. This is the first book I've read in which she is the main character, and I appreciated the fresh view she brought to the story. The romance between herself and Arthur Brandon was sweet, bringing a bit of a Romeo and Juliet story to the court of Henry VIII. I believe Arthur's pure fiction...it would have been nice if the author included an afterward or other brief notes at the back, discussing what is based on fact and what she pulled out of her head.
Unfortunately, the writing itself isn't very good. Specifically, the dialogue is very clunky. Barnhill attempted to capture English as it was spoken in the 16th century, but it doesn't work at all. Her “Ye Olde English” conversational style sounds completely fake, like the men and women running stalls at Renaissance Faires. By the time I was halfway through the book, I just wanted the characters to shut up so I could focus on the story.
I also found it a little hard to believe that Anne Boleyn would share the secrets of her sex life with a girl half her age. Family or no, Madge was still a teenager...and we all know how hard to is to find a one who can hold her tongue! It also seemed strange that Madge made no friends her own age. Granted, attending to the Queen was no doubt a full-time occupation that kept her very busy, but still...odd.
This certainly isn't the worst Tudor novel I've read, but there are so many excellent books in the category of “Tudor historical fiction” and “Tudor historical romance” that I have a hard time recommending this title.
2.5 out of 5 stars
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