Rating: 4 Stars
I received a free digital copy of this book from the publisher, MadeGlobal, in exchange for an honest review. I also must make note that I have read Dillard's Catherine Carey in a Nutshell and you will find a quote from my review of that book prior to the start of the novel.
Who would've thought, my first post NOT about my own book is not my typical fare, but historical fiction instead. I became acquainted with the author, Adrienne Dillard, not surprisingly, through Dan Jones' Facebook page because of course. We bonded over our love of history and these families and I was very interested to learn that Dillard was writing a book about Jane (Parker) Boleyn. Up to this point I had only read one non-fiction book about Jane, by Julia Fox and entitled Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford. While that book did the best it could with the material available, there is unfortunately little we actually know in the way of facts. Perhaps that is why I was drawn to one of the historical fiction variety.
I could not put this book down. I mean, okay, I had to physically put it down to go to sleep, but collectively I read it in a matter of hours. For those who have only seen Jane and George as portrayed by Showtime's The Tudors, this will be something quite different. Now, don't get me wrong, I loved the show because I could stare at Henry Cavill and Jonathan Rhys Meyers until the end of time. But it was definitely not an accurate portrayal of the family. Here in Dillard's novel we see Jane and George actually caring for one another, and nothing of the violence as the show gave us a glimpse of. Dillard is able to take information from the period and apply that to Jane and George, such as portraying their attempts to have children and the miscarriages that resulted each time. There is no evidence either way that these ever occurred, but that is not unsurprising. We only know Jane's name for two reasons: 1) she was Anne Boleyn's sister-in-law and 2) She was labeled a co-conspirator in Catherine Howard's affairs and thus executed alongside the disgraced 5th queen. Very little is known of her life and while that is frustrating now, when in the 21st century we want to know everything about these intriguing figures from history, it would not have caused anyone then to bat an eyelash about lack of documentation on her life.
Very early on I could not help but notice simply how beautifully this novel is writing. The major contrast of course first being the way Jane and George were portrayed elsewhere, but also in the way Jane herself is thought about and considered and discussed. She is often seen as this vengeful wraith who gave evidence against George in his trial and Anne's, then threw herself into helping Catherine carry on her affair with Culpeper because she supposedly just liked to meddle and be involved in dangerous, deadly games.
I have to admit that I was skeptical at first when discovering the book was written in first person. This seemed like an odd choice to me, because the end of Jane's life was a fact: she was executed along with Catherine for her involvement in the affair and supposedly helping Catherine. This part was a definite struggle for me. However, it also became clear that for once, Jane needed to have a voice and tell her story herself. Her story could be told in no other way, especially in order to combat the rumors about her. Given the view from inside Jane's mind, the speculation of why she did the things she did seem to make sense in that yes, it may very well be that she lost her mind and was innocent of the charges, but simply was doing what she was told in aiding Catherine.
Fun Fact: I have discovered that no matter what, fiction or nonfiction, I really hate Anne Boleyn. Her arrogance in all of it makes me want to slap her in the face. I know it is kind of mean, but I not-so-secretly hope that the scene around 52%, when Anne and Jane had to escape quickly by boat from the mob of women supporting Katherine, is something that actually occurred in real life.
While Jane is the focus of the novel, I loved the portrayal also of Mary Boleyn. Mary is easily my favorite of the Boleyn siblings and I really appreciate that she is given a voice here also. I do not always think she is given a fair shake and history has been somewhat unkind. Perhaps my favoring Mary over Anne also comes from the fact that they seem like opposites in so many regards. Either way, yay Mary.
The questions surrounding Jane's sanity are touched on time and again throughout the novel. This again is why, though first person was strange to me at first, very quickly I came around to the idea of it, because we had to be in Jane's head to see how she viewed what was happening around her, to her, and to those she loved. The scene where she is finally given permission to visit George's grave is beyond heart-wrenching - though I also teared up when the end arrived as well. Jane throughout seems to be very aware of the thin line she walks between sanity and insanity. I wonder if it is always that easy for some to recognize that they have gone mad, or perhaps that is the clarity she had once she had lost everyone around her.
I greatly appreciated the fact that the author had a rather lengthy note following the novel. In it she explained the choices she made and offered up sound reasoning for doing so. She refers to documentation from Jane's lifetime, as well as nonfiction works by modern authors. Additionally, she has prepared book club questions that could be of value either to an individual reader or for use in a group. Overall, I must say that I highly recommend this one whether you are like me and wade very rarely into the fiction pool, or dive in head first every chance you get.