This is the second Norah Lofts books I have read. The first book was called 'The King's Pleasure,' and focused on the first wife of Henry VIII. I found the first book slightly heavy going in comparison to other historical fiction I have read, such as Philippa Gregory. It was more factual than I expected and took more concentration, so I expected the same of this second book.
'The Concubine,' is the story of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII. I have always found the story of Anne Boleyn the most interesting, with all the rumours of withcraft and adultery. I expected this book to present it from a factual point of view, however the author does make assumptions, giving this book more of a fictional feel then 'The King's Pleasure.'
Although I found this book a good read, I much prefered 'The Other Boleyn Girl,' and 'The Boleyn Inheritance,' by Philippa Gregory. They had more of a fictional feel and were easier to get into. In my opinion 'The Concubine,' was caught between fact and fiction and didn't fall far into either category, being to heavy for fiction and straying from facts.
I would only recommend it for serious fans of Henry VIII novels.
"The King's Grace is ruled by one common stewed whore, Anne Boleyn, who makes all the spirituality to be beggared, and the temporality also. -- Abbot of Whitby 1530 "
Recently I reviewed 'The Kings Pleasure' by Norah Lofts, a book about the life of Katharine of Aragon, first of Henry VIII's many wives. The book told of her life from her childhood following her parents around as they fought in a Holy War, through both her marriages, to her eventual death, cold and alone, at Kimbolton Castle.
We all know that the woman who took her place as Henry's wife was Anne Boleyn, and it is she who is the focus of this novel, which begins around the time of her return from the French Court, and of her love affair with Harry/Henry Percy. Desperately in love, and keen to marry, she is heartbroken when Wolsey, on the orders of the King, prevents the marriage - and vows to have her revenge on Wolsey.
Of course, Henry has his reasons behind ordering Wolsey to break the marriage, his reason being his intense lust for Anne . Anne however, perhaps taking as her example her sister, previously the kings lover and now married off with her reputation in tatters, is not about to become any king's whore - leading the King to embark on a course of events that would shock the nation .
Given that 'The Kings Pleasure' was about Katharine, and this book, 'The Concubine' is about Anne, I did expect some overlapping of time, and if I'm honest, I expected that parts of the book at least would feel almost as though I had read them before . Actually. this was not the case at all - although much of the same information was presented, it was done in a new way and wasn't just a dull old re-hashing of some already written paragraphs .
What I found very interesting was the authors take on the charges against Anne - she suggests that although Anne was innocent of treason and adultery with all those named, that she had in fact slept with several people after masked balls, using the anonymity as a protection under which to conceive a male heir . This was an interesting suggestion, and one I've not come across in the past in historical fiction, and actually gave an exciting tone to the book.
Also interesting is the fact that the majority of the book was told from the view of Emma Arnett , a maid assigned to Anne at the time of her disgrace over the broken engagement, when Anne was sent away from court to Blickling by Wolsey . Emma Arnett is an interesting character - a staunch protestant who firmly believes that her's is the right cause, and will use anybody, even the kings whore, to promote the cause . This brings up several interesting moral dilemmas throughout the book.
Emma is however, a fictional character, and this book -unlike 'The Kings Pleasure' does deviate from the known facts fairly often . However, if you're not a history purist, and can overlook a little deviation in the name of a good story, then this book actually is a VERY good read , rich in detail, with plenty of little backdoor intrigues to keep you guessing .
This book has a very natural flow, with chapters simply named after the time and place of events, making it easy to keep track of where I am in the course of history . Also, with each chapter are quotes about the events therein, either from contemporary sources during Anne's life, or from later biographies . These little snippets make incredibly interesting reading!
I have so far enjoyed both of the Norah Lofts books that I have read - I would say that whilst 'King's Pleasure' was certainly the more accurate of the two books, 'The Concubine' was without a doubt the most thrilling to read .
It is unusual for me to reward any historical fiction book with the full five stars it is is based on well documented events, and then gets well known facts wrong, or deliberately changes the way of events just to get a good story . However, I found this book so very enjoyable that I cannot bring myself to deduct stars on this occasion - so 'The Concubine' gets the full five stars!