Friday 11 June 2021

Audiobook Review - Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession

I've been "ooh"ing and "ahh"ing over this title for quite some time. I ever had an eProof of this YEARS ago, but I wasn't as well read in historical fiction back then and, after a chapter or two, I put it down and went "This isn't for me"

Fast forward till now and I keep looking at the Six Tudor Queens series and going "I really should try again", and I had a spare Audible credit to use before I cancel my account with them (for now). Then the news broke that Channel 5 in the UK were doing a three part thriller based on Anne Boleyn's last few months starring Jodie Turner-Smith in the title role, which causes a bit of controversy as Jodie is a black actor playing a white historical figure. (Here's the link to the trailer, if you're curious)

Now, I am very intrigued and excited to watch this three-parter so I went "Sod it!" and bought the audiobook, planning to listen to it before the show aired. Just so I have some of the key information straight in my head.

Now, we all know Anne Boleyn and a little of her story. She is the woman who Henry VIII divorced Katherine of Aragon and broke England from the Vatican for and, in many adaptions (ranging from HBO's The Tudors to The Other Boleyn Girl and Wolf Hall), we are told she was a temptress, desperate and hunger for power and no-one will stand in her way, or a woman who fell in love with the wrong man. We never got the same version of her and even historians have different interpretations.

So having Alison Weir, a public historian who has written many non-fiction novels and now fiction (many set in or around the time of the Tudors), tell each of Henry VIII"s wives for their point of view will make fascinating and gripping reading, right?

... well...

Maybe I went in with my hopes too high. Maybe I just didn't click with Alison's writing style. Maybe I didn't get on with the reader of the audiobook, Anna Bentinck, and her pacing (for most of the audiobook, I did have the audiobook at 1.5x speed). Or maybe I just didn't like how Anna and Henry were written. Flawed, yes (I think we all admit we like reading characters who are flawed [aren't we all?]) but Henry was written in a way where I had no sympathy towards him. He acted like a child either on the verge or having a tantrum, and Anna was either a victim of powerful men and circumstances or can be quite manipulative, who went into the marriage not loving Henry but wanting the title of Queen. In fact, all characters in this book were written in an unlikable fashion, which has made many readers question if the author even liked Anne Boleyn.

There were details in here that I went "Is that artistic licence or is this true?". An example is when Anne's sister, Mary Boleyn, said that she was raped. First by King Francis I of France then by Henry VIII. Now, quick Wiki search says that she was Henry VIII's mistress for a short time and that maybe she did have a sexual affair with King Francis (though most historians have questioned this by saying this could be hugely exaggerated). But the idea that both men, as well as Mary and Anne's own brother, George Boleyn, are all rapists (with Henry VIII rumoured to have fathered one or both of Mary's children) deeply troubling. Now, I'm not saying they were all could have been (men did treated women very differently back then) and all three have the reputation of being womanisers and having countless affairs, but to have all three labelled as rapists didn't sit well with me.

Plus, the allegation that George Boleyn poisoned and caused the death of Katherine of Aragon. Now, according to modern historians, it's believed that Katherine of Aragon died of cancer (sometime the doctors of the time didn't understand) but rumours circled saying that Katherine was poisoned due to a black growth on her heart. An unfounded rumour circled at the time and for many years afterwards that Gregory di Casale, a diplomat representing Henry VIII of England to the Papacy in the 1530s, poisoned Katherine so to have this book say that George confessed to Anne that he poisoned Katherine and went to his execution believing he did raises huge alarm bells with me.

While I completely get that this is fiction and there is a certain level of artistic licence, we must remember that this is historical fiction and must have a foot in history and the facts.

Now, I do have two more books in this series on my Kindle (eProofs given by the Publisher in exchange for honest review) - Katheryn Howard, The Tainted Queen & Katharine Parr: The Sixth Wife - and while I do plan to read them (not audiobook them. I wonder if reading them will effect my enjoyment), I will go in with lower expectations.

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