Review: Anne Boleyn

THE PLOT: Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession is the second book in the ‘Six Tudor Queens’ series by Alison Weir. Starting with Anne’s early life at Hever, it follows her move to Burgundy to serve Margaret of Austria and then to the French Court. The majority of the novel covers her role as a maid-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon and her courtship with Henry VIII. Then, a surprisingly short amount of the novel details their marriage and her downfall. As you may have guessed, this novel is about an intelligent young woman who loses her head over a king (in more ways than one).

RATING: Yes, it’s another four-star banger from Alison Weir. I’m a bit of an Anne Boleyn stan and I admire how Weir found a unique take on this familiar story. Rather than the scheming Anne we all love to hate, Weir gives us a sympathetic portrait of an intelligent and virtuous young woman who simply did not have the power to say ‘no’ to her besotted king. At 500 pages, this is no light novel, but it’s well worth the investment because it takes you on a detailed but thrilling journey.

GOOD BITS: This novel shows us a new side of Anne Boleyn. I loved the detail about her early life, particularly in Burgundy (the Netherlands) and France, which we so rarely see. Inspired by strong women, we understand how she came to believe in reformist principles and saw herself as working to tackle abuses in the catholic church. This novel puts Anne in the driving seat – she’s not the unwitting tool of her father and uncle – yet it also recognizes the limited power she could’ve had as a woman, particularly trying to resist the advances of a king. You feel sympathy for Anne as Weir gives us a picture of womanhood during the time, and even touches on rape and sexual abuse.

NOT SO GOOD BITS: I read this a couple of weeks after finishing the first book (Katherine of Aragon), as I thought it’d be fun to read the series almost back-to-back. However, this was a bad decision because majority of both novels cover the same events. I feel this would have worked better if there was more poignancy to getting a different point of view, for example if something had been revealed that wasn’t obvious in Katherine’s book or more insight into behind the scenes scheming (I kept expecting a reveal about intercepting Chapuy’s letters to Katherine!). Also, I think shortening some of the overlaps, truncating Henry’s pursuit of Anne with a couple of strategic time-jumps and dedicating a larger portion to Anne’s time as Queen and her downfall would’ve made the novel seem more balanced.

OVERALL: If you’re a fan of Phillippa Gregory or Hilary Mantel, these books should be on your reading list. Not only is Alison Weir meticulously detailed in her research, she’s done well to offer a new and interesting portrayal of well-known characters. This book could’ve easily fallen into the same depiction of Anne, but it will show you a new side of this much maligned Queen and offer some added detail that will enrich your reading of other novels set in the Tudor period.