The Boleyn Wife
by Brandy Purdy
Lady Jane Parker isn’t pretty or talented; amongst the bright and beautiful women of Henry VIII’s court she’s a flower that few want to pluck. Luckily, she’s got a rich father to arrange Jane’s marriage to the man she loves, George Boleyn. But it soon becomes clear to Jane that there’s only room for one woman in George’s heart, and that is his sister, Anne. Even after their marriage, George barely notices the wife who adores him but shares none of his interests. Jane seethes with fury and jealousy, and the higher Anne rises in the Tudor court the greater Jane’s animosity grows. As the rift between her husband and Jane grows, she becomes determined to bring down Anne Boleyn, now the Queen of England, no matter what it takes.
A lady-in-waiting to four queens, Jane Boleyn witnessed the rise and fall of many from the favor of the King. But when her own life is in peril, will she be able to save herself from the wrath of Henry VIII?
First, I have a really minor nitpick about the cover. (I know the author doesn’t have a lot of influence over the cover, so I’m not faulting Brandy Purdy on this one.) Why is our cover model dressed in a medieval gown? No one at court would be dressed like that during Henry VIII’s reign. It seems like such a small thing, but I’m a bit of a fashion nerd so the cover really annoyed me.
Problem the second is a much bigger issue, and it is that Jane was easily one of the most annoying narrators I’ve encountered. Most of the book is told in the first person, from her perspective, and in order to witness major events she is constantly sneaking around and peering through keyholes, hiding behind tapestries, and the like. It’s a device that gets old, really fast. Furthermore, Jane comes across as a bitter, angry harpy constantly bagging on other women and fighting with her husband. It’s pathetic how she drives him away by nagging and shrewish behavior, and then doesn’t understand why he doesn’t love her back. Her venomous tongue makes for a painful narration, and ultimately makes her a very unsympathetic character.
Purdy’s overall approach was very different than most Tudor writers. She’s less sympathetic to the wives of Henry VIII; Jane speaks scornfully of them all. I wasn’t sure if the different characterizations were a result of Jane’s mental instability or Purdy’s attempts to be innovative with a story told many times before. It’s a real pity there were no author’s notes at the end. One scene she wrote had Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard as lovers playing with a pot of honey; I would love to know what inspired that lurid little assignation.
I really didn’t enjoy this book, mainly because I hated the narrator, and I really wouldn’t recommend it. A lot of other authors have tackled the same characters and time period (Jane Plaidy, Philippa Gregory, Diane Haeger and Alisa Libby to name just a few) with better results.