I read this book at the beginning of January and enjoyed it. I LOVE historical fiction (if you can't already tell) and this novel is set during the reign of King Henry VIII. I find this time period in English history to be fascinating and love to read about it and watch any movies, documentaries, mini-series, etc. that come my way - much to Ben's dismay!
This novel is told from three different prespectives; by Anne of Cleves, the fourth wife of Henry; by Katherine Howard the fifth wife of Henry (and cousin to Anne Boleyn); and by Lady Jane Rochford the wife of executed George Bolyen, Anne Bolyen's brother. I liked the three prespectives - especially since they are three tales that are not as well known as those of Anne Bolyen, Jane Seymour, and Catherine of Aragon. This novel is a good continuation of the story told in The Other Bolyen Girl, but it is also its own stand alone novel.
I liked how the novel told the story of Anne being a strong woman in her own right. You always hear about how she "disgusted" Henry and he had to try to find a way to divorce her, but I can definitely believe in the novel's point of view that she had to be a smart and crafty woman to be able to survive during that time. Otherwise - it would have been off with her head like so many other of Henry's wives.
Unfortunately, one of those wives was Katherine Howard. The novel does a good job of showing Katherine as a silly teenager - as that's what she was! She was only fifteen when a much older Henry married her. The novel puts a modern sensibility to her so it is easy to understand her and imagine her in today's terms. At first she annoyed me for being so silly, but by the end I was crying at her execution. I'm assuming everyone knows their history and that she was executed - so hopefully I'm not ruining it for anyone! She was a young and silly girl and it just amazed me that someone could have the power to end her life for the sake of their vanity.
Jane Rochford's story was interesting too. The novel did a great job of fleshing out a one-dimensional minor character from The Other Bolyen Girl. It was nice to get her side of things as I've always wondered what kind of a woman she could be after the things she did (I won't give that away!).
Overall this book really gave me a sense of how scary it would have been to live in England during Henry VIII's time. As they say - absolute power corrupts absolutely. And one of the most powerless people during that time were women. It was also interesting to me how one man could do so much to change religion - and not because he was trying to change it in a good way. It disgusted me reading about the abbys, convents, etc. that were destroyed to further enrich the King.
I would rate this book as one of Philippa Gregory's best. I enjoyed it more than The Other Boleyn Girl, The Constant Princess, and The Virgin's Lover. I would rate it the same as The Queen's Fool, which to date, I have thought of as Ms. Gregory's best novel (probably because I found it so interesting reading about the trials and tribulations of the Jewish people during this time period - disturbing!).
Let me know what you think about Ms. Gregory's novels!