THE PLOT: Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen is the third book in the ‘Six Tudor Queens’ series by Alison Weir. Starting with Jane’s upbringing at Wulfhall in Wiltshire, the novel depicts her as a meek and timid country girl with a religious devotion and little understanding of politics. It then goes on to depict her life at court in loyal service of Katherine of Aragon and her conflicted role as a forced maid-of-honour to Anne Boleyn. As Jane learns more of the world, she catches the eye of King Henry VIII. But will a simple country girl get swept up by the promise of a crown…?
RATING: Probably a bit boring for you all, but (like the rest of the series) I’m going to give this book four stars. As you’ve probably realised, I adore Tudor history and Alison Weir’s attention to detail make her novels stand out. However, this book in particular gives a voice to one of Henry’s wives who is much overlooked. Little is known about Jane Seymour; she left few letters and her reign was short. This often leads people to assume she was a quiet character and pawn in her family’s dynastic games. However, this novel allows us to imagine Jane in her own right, which makes it a must-read for any Tudor fanatics.
GOOD BITS: Despite its length, I was gripped by this novel and enjoyed the experience of reading it. Indeed, I rarely wanted to put it down and it was a perfect bedtime book. I think knowing so little about Jane (compared to Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn), there was more of a hook and desperation to understand what happens next. I also think the pacing was better than Weir’s book about Anne, as Jane’s upbringing, courtship and reign were given equal screen time.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: I was bored towards the end. Let’s face it, we all know how the story concludes, but I felt the last 50 pages were a bit of a slog. In the author’s note, Weir details how she sought medical advice and investigated many sources to determine how Jane died. It seems like the meticulous historian overrode the novelist as Weir sacrificed the plot and readers’ experience to the pursuit of accuracy. As a result, the novel will stand the test of time as a sort of counterfactual history positing what may have happened to Jane. However, for my reading pleasure I wish the ending had been faster and more dramatic.
OVERALL: Let’s face it, you’re probably not going to read this as a standalone. Therefore, my previous recommendations to pick up the series if you’re a fan of Hilary Mantel or Philippa Gregory still stand. However, I do think that this book could be read in isolation if you want to learn more about Jane Seymour, but find the length of the series intimidating. So many books have been written about Katherine and Annie, but this focus on Jane provides a new lens to view the Tudor period.