The Tudor Wife by Emily Purdy as it was released in the UK, has been released under a couple of other titles too. It began life as ‘Vengeance is Mine’ under the name Brandy Purdy then as ‘The Boleyn Wife’ again as Brandy Purdy before I picked it up in it’s current incarnation. The story is about Lady Rochford, Jane Boleyn, the wife of Anne Boleyn’s brother George. I quite like Jane Boleyn as a character, mostly because, despite being one of the more reviled women in history, the evidence suggests that she didn’t actually do anything. The testimony she supposedly gave to Cromwell has quite recently been attributed to another lady at court. With this in mind I am always keen to read anything about Jane Boleyn to see what new light she is cast in.
The very first thing I noted about this book however, is the disclaimer in the front that states that the novel is a work of fiction, the characters are entirely a work of the author’s imagination any resemblance to persons alive or dead is purely coincidental. This amused me greatly, for obvious reasons.
To the story! The novel follows the life of Jane Boleyn, from just before her marriage to George to her execution. The book is divided into sections, one for Anne Boleyn, another for Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves and finally one for Catherine Howard. The narrative focuses on George and Anne’s obsessive love for each other which fuels Jane’s jealousy to the point of betrayal.
I was so utterly disappointed with this book. Put simply it wasn’t very good. The narrative is told from the first person of Jane’s perspective but there is so little of Jane in it, many times I forgot that it wasn’t a third person story of Anne Boleyn. Purdy tries desperately to make Jane know everything about the court, which obviously in the first person she simply cannot do, so instead we have Jane hiding under beds, peeping through keyholes and hiding in wardrobes to watch interactions between characters (usually them having sex and the sex scenes are so appallingly written! Far from being erotic I found them actually distasteful).
Considering the story is supposed to be about Jane and George’s marriage there was really not that much of them in it. That said, there’s hardly anything of Jane in it. It really is a story about everyone around her and Jane’s role is simply to tell us about it rather than how it relates to her or if it impacts upon her at all.
Historically, the book takes more poetic license than any I have ever read. Jane has an affair with Cromwell and gives birth to his child, which really comes out of nowhere considering Jane had no children. Catherine Howard begins her sexual antics at the age of five and has a lesbian relationship with Anne of Cleves. All of this I can forgive if it did anything to advance the plot, but they really don’t. Jane has a one night stand with Cromwell, births his son and then nothing is said about it again, nor does the son feature in the narrative outside of his birth, which Jane us unconscious for anyway. But the affair between Catherine and Anne is quite laughable, especially when Anne announces that Catherine took her for the ‘ride of mein life’. Both of these events just happen in the book, with no context or reason or any placement in the plot, they really are just there.
The real tragedy is that as terrible as this novel is, it gives an interesting portrayal of Anne Boleyn which is wasted in such a badly written book. Anne is seen to be utterly uninterested in Henry. Indeed, she only pursues a relationship with him because she is given the choice of that or a nun’s life in a convent. Henry’s interest wanes and it is only her pregnancy with Elizabeth that forces the marriage. The idea that they were both forced together by circumstance with neither wanting to marry each other is an interesting one I’ve not come across in fiction before and it is a shame that it was not better explored.
All in all this is not a great book and I would not recommend it. Frankly I think everything about it can be said by the original cover seen here. If I had seen this cover instead of the updated one above, I would not have bought it in the first place.
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