“ Genre: Fiction - History / Author: Thea Atkinson / Kindle Edition „
I've always had a weirdly strong interest in Anne Boleyn, my mum's a huge reader of Tudor fiction and non-fiction so I grew up with tales of Henry and his many wives - something about Anne Boleyn has always touched me though, I devour novels based around her and bought Pray for Reign after spotting it on the Kindle Store for just 89p.
It's an odd book, so this review is probably going to be full of contradictions - the story it weaves around the courtship between Anne and Henry and the years leading up to her death is beautiful, portraying Anne in a different light to what you'd usually read about her. But, and this is quite a but, the book is incredibly badly written and in places poorly researched. It's not quite a case of 'spot the mistake' but occasionally something I read would click against something I already know so it was off to Wiki* to check if Thea Atkinson (the author) had got her facts right - to be fair she was usually on the right path but a date could be a year or two out or she'd call Henry Harry to confuse matters. Obviously Henry was called Harry in his day, but I definitely felt the author needed to make her mind up which name she was going to use - especially considering how popular both of those names were in the 16th century!
This actually became a problem roughly a quarter of the way into the novel; before being wooed by King Henry, Anne was betrothed to Henry Percy. Obviously the marriage didn't come to fruition but Atkinson wrote a whole chapter on their courtship - the badly defined male character meant that for ten whole pages I actually thought the King was being referred to, even though certain points didn't make sense there had been no warning that we were about to deviate from the story of one Henry to another! Likewise conversations between characters were not well laid out, I don't know whether this was a problem with the author or the transition to Kindle but it spoilt my enjoyment of certain segments of the book. It was difficult to work out who was speaking in which order, following any lengthy conversation was irritating and confusing as sometimes the same person would even speak twice in a row just to completely throw the reader.
There are also words slotted into the novel that probably weren't widely used in the days of Anne Boleyn; I smiled at one point where George Boleyn scratched his 'butt' although the littering of modern (and quite Americanised) terms and words did get a bit distracting after a while.
The story itself though is faultless. The author is kind to Anne Boleyn, portraying her as simply a woman who was in love with her King (and eventually husband). It's quite accepted now that it was more likely Anne's argumentative nature that eventually caused her demise, but in Pray for Reign it's shown that King Henry was cruel to her after the initial honeymoon period was over. I enjoyed reading of the compassion felt by Anne towards the woman she had usurped, Catherine of Aragon, as I find historians and novelists generally portray Anne (and Henry to a point) as vilely cruel to the former Queen. Without doubt there was immense cruelty shown towards Catherine, but this was in relation to the times and any claim to the throne had to be squashed - Catherine's continual instance that she was the true Queen was not only grating to Anne, but also highly dangerous to her position. I liked the way Anne's personality and way of thinking changed as she rose to be Queen; at first she was a wordly but still quite sheltered woman, wanting to be with the man Henry and not his crown. Then as things moved along she became more scheming and calculated, Thea Atkinson injected a venom into her character but gave Anne a vulnerable edge too which came out more and more as she squabbled with the king and threw numerous temper tantrums. I rooted for her and at times was disappointed when I remembered that I already knew the ending of the story, what I mean to say is that Pray for Reign made Anne into a likeable character.
I was impressed with the way the author rounded out the characters of Anne and her sister, Mary Boleyn. Little snippets of their daily lives were included in the novel; highly descriptive points about her meals and clothing, slotted into the story to create a full picture of what it was like to be a noble woman in the times of King Henry. The final few pages, where Anne finally realised her fate, were a little too contrived in my opinion and relied too much on other accounts of these tragic days - the 'I have such a little neck' comment being used in practically every Anne Boleyn book I have ever read, whether this was a statement she really made or not! I thought the preceding pages were well written though, portraying the madness and insanity that must have been felt by Anne at the horror of finding herself imprisoned in the Tower of London perfectly. This tends to be glossed over in other novels based around her life - considering she hadn't really done anything wrong and was about to be murdered I'd be surprised if the woman hadn't been a tiny bit distraught, and Thea Atkinson portrayed this perfectly in my opinion. The execution scene itself was hurried in my opinion, meaning it felt like the book stopped dead instead of tapering to a more controlled conclusion - I got the impression the author was trying to avoid the gorier side of the story as details of Anne's co-condemned were equally rushed and stunted.
One other thing that drove me mad while reading Pray for Reign was the lack of research at some points, minor but highly irritating errors in the text - nicknames wrongly used (it was JOANNA the Mad, Ms Atkinson!), Catholics referred to as heretics during the wrong half of Henry's reign (when he was a staunch Catholic himself) and countless other maddening gaffes. Someone who has done less reading on the Tudor period wouldn't notice them, I don't say that to brag it's just that it's disheartening when Google confirms you are right more often than the highly paid author is!
Overall I enjoyed the book, it held my interest despite the issues I've already raised and I found it very interesting to read a 'story' about Anne Boleyn that focussed so much on her life rather than dwelling on the way history has chosen to portray her. I particularly enjoyed the interaction between Anne and her brother, George, as I felt it was perfectly handled by the author - of course, the main reason Anne was executed wasn't because of her argumentative nature but because of supposed incest between herself and George. Atkinson showed that the siblings had a close bond, that George would visit Anne's bedchamber and even lie on her bed while she was Queen was highly inappropriate for the time and (if true) almost definitely strengthened King Henrys case against Anne when he decided the time was right to rid himself of her. I think this is the first novel I've read where this has been so well handled, their closeness was not made to feel 'dirty' in any way but the author (cleverly I thought) drew the readers mind into the murky world of incest simply because we all know how this tale is going to end - at various points I felt like jumping into the story and dragging George from Anne's bed, knowing that this was going to be the death sentence for both of these likeable and fun loving people.
* do not always trust Wiki..