I have been fascinated by Anne Boleyn for most of my life. I always loved studying Tudor history, and she (along with her daughter Elizabeth I) is easily one of the more interesting characters from that period. Her story is fascinating and tragic, and she has always been portrayed as somewhat of a seductive villainess, which is invariably fun to read about. When I saw that Alison Weir had written an entire novel about her, I knew I had to get my hands on it. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that her take on Anne Boleyn isn’t quite what I was used to.
(From Goodreads) It is the spring of 1527. Henry VIII has come to Hever Castle in Kent to pay court to Anne Boleyn. He is desperate to have her. For this mirror of female perfection he will set aside his Queen and all Cardinal Wolsey’s plans for a dynastic French marriage.
Anne Boleyn is not so sure. She loathes Wolsey for breaking her betrothal to the Earl of Northumberland’s son, Harry Percy, whom she had loved. She does not welcome the King’s advances; she knows that she can never give him her heart.
But hers is an opportunist family. And whether Anne is willing or not, they will risk it all to see their daughter on the throne…
Like I said, Alison Weir portrays Anne Boleyn a bit differently than the other sources I’ve seen. Instead of a villain, she is almost a victim in this novel. But not quite. I love the way Weir interpreted the historical sources (which she explains at the end of the book), because it’s different than the way others have seen them, but still makes complete sense. After years of ingesting information about the Tudors, I was surprised to find that I loved this take on Anne so much. She is more human, more vulnerable, and more kind than I’ve seen before. Instead of malice, there is fear. And even though she does want revenge on a powerful figure who wronged her, it didn’t seem unjustified. All in all, this is easily my favorite image of Anne, and one that I will definitely keep in mind as I read more about the Tudors (including the rest of this series, which I need to get my hands on right this second).
The story itself was something I was fairly familiar with. But because Weir presented a fresh take on Anne, the story felt new and exciting. Events I remembered had a different twist, a different motive, and almost every single time, it made more sense to me. I particularly loved reading this book almost immediately after finishing Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen, because in that book, Anne was seen (from Katherine’s perspective) as a villain. In this one, she is the protagonist. And it really highlighted for me how both of them were just trying to do what they had to do in order to survive and ensure their children were taken care of. Both of them fought for what they believed in, they just happened to believe in different things. As a whole, the stories presented in both books really made me think about who these people really were. Because Weir brilliantly made them more human than I’ve ever seen them.
As in Katherine of Aragon, Weir’s writing is fantastic! She has a wonderful, intangible way of making the sixteenth century feel authentic while still making the characters and story utterly relatable. It is, I think, what makes her books so wonderful. Perhaps it was because I was already in a good headspace for this book, having just finished the prequel, but I found Anne Boleyn to be compulsively readable; I finished the last four-hundred or so pages in a single day, and kept finding myself drawn to it whenever I (briefly) set it down. I also really appreciate the research that went into this book. While it is fiction, it’s also a story based on real events and real people. And Weir makes it seem that way. I loved reading about events I was familiar with in a completely different light. Weir took the history and managed to interpret it in a way that felt fresh and honest.
For those of you familiar with Anne Boleyn’s story, you’re probably aware of what happens at the end of this book. (For the rest of you, I won’t spoil it.) I was extremely curious about how it was going to be handled, as the book is told from Anne’s perspective. And I’m honestly still a little bit in shock. It was utterly brilliant, but completely horrifying. I actually went back and read the last few pages again, because it is so, so well-done. I can’t get over how good it was. Which is really something I can say about the entire novel.
★★★★★ – I think it’s pretty clear I loved this book! Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession is one of the best novels I’ve read this year, and easily one of the best historical novels I’ve read in a long time. I am completely in love with this series, and cannot wait to get my hands on the next installment in the Six Tudor Queens. If you’re into historical fiction, or want to learn more about the Tudors, this is a must-read.
Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession is available in bookstores now! Get your copy on Amazon! And be sure to check out my review for Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen. While you can definitely read the books individually, I highly recommend reading them together, because, in many ways, they tell two sides of the same story.
To get the audiobook for free, use this link to sign up for a free trial of Audible and choose Anne Boleyn as one of your two free books!
This book was generously provided to me by Random House/Ballantine Books and NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions in this review are my own.