Monday, July 08, 2013

Jennifer's Book Review: Tarnish by Katherine Longshore


Let me begin by saying I am not a history buff. I’m usually not a big reader of historical fiction, although I have made exceptions from time to time. My knowledge of Anne Boleyn is very, very limited, and it’s mostly what I’ve picked up over the years and what little I learned from watching The Tudors (we all know how factual that was). Basically, what I knew could be boiled down to this: Anne Boleyn was one of the many unlucky wives of Henry VIII. She convinced him to divorce his first wife, which caused the king to split with the Catholic Church. She was unable to give birth to a son, and instead she produced a daughter and some miscarriages. Not too long after their marriage began, it ended: She was accused of adultery and incest, and she was subsequently beheaded. There ends my knowledge of Anne Boleyn.

So in reading my review, understand that I am not going to comment on the factual information that lies within the pages of Tarnish, although the author’s after note discusses her research and how she incorporated historic details and speculation into the novel. I won’t discuss anachronisms, because I’m nowhere near familiar enough with the time period to know what’s accurate and what isn’t. Furthermore, I haven’t read Gilt, the first book in Katherine Longshore’s Tudors series, but fortunately it wasn’t necessarily to understand or enjoy Tarnish.

Now that the disclaimers are complete, on to the review!

Tarnish opens not long after Anne Boleyn returns to the English court, after spending some time away. Her sister is mistress to the king, and Anne enters into service for Queen Katherine. Anne initially left court ages ago because of a minor embarrassment that everyone except her own family has forgotten. Now that she’s back, she’s essentially an outcast, known for her sharp tongue and plain looks. However, poet Thomas Wyatt decides to take her under his wing and teach her how to stand out and how to become admired and pursued. Their friendship is laced with flirtation and occasional jealousy as Wyatt’s plan eventually works. Anne becomes noticed by many men in the court, and eventually even draws the interest of the king, who Anne has admired since she was 13 years old.

Tarnish is not a book about the death of Anne Boleyn. (That’ll be left to the final book in the trilogy.) Rather, it’s about the life of Anne Boleyn. Here is a girl who just wants to live. She doesn’t want to be tethered to the odious James Butler, with whom she’s nearly betrothed. She desires a husband who will bring her acceptance in the court, and she wishes to travel and see the world. She wants her father’s approval and for her brother to once again become the boy she loved as a child. Anne wants to believe in love, and ultimately, she craves power – power over her own destiny and power over others.

The Anne portrayed in Longshore’s novel is not totally innocent, but she is also not  as scheming and conniving as some other portrayals make her out to be. She’s young and naïve, but she balances it out with being shrewd and intelligent. No matter what Anne experiences -- turmoil or contentedness, misery or happiness -- the story has an edge of foreboding woven throughout it. Innocuous remarks, such as a comment about Anne’s “little neck,” foreshadow Anne’s ultimate demise. Even though the book ends on a bittersweet, yet upbeat, note, readers will still feel the fear and gloom hanging over her head as she marches toward her unhappy fate.

The tale is beautifully told. Longshore manages to keep readers invested and interested in Anne’s future, despite their knowing its devastating outcome. I absolutely loved this novel, and it makes me want to give more historical fiction books a shot. I cannot recommend it enough.


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