Somehow, Lady Anne was able to hold her own in a court full of schemers, adulterers, and backstabbers. By playing her cards right, Anne and her husband managed to have the upper hand in almost every situation they were in - and she miraculously survived the dangerous reign of King Henry VIII.
Already established as an impressive Tudor woman, I admit that this novel must have been a hard one to write - mainly because Tudor Enthusiasts who already know of Anne's reputation may have a difficult time feeling any kind of sympathy or interest for her. However, there are many things that Knight did in this novel that made it exceptionally good. Here are my thoughts...
1. Anne's Clever (and admirable) Moral Code
So often I read Tudor novels and find a huge amount of adultery and lewd scandal. Although it is true that some Tudors were famous for their indiscretion (and we have The Tudors series to thank in part for making this period in history so steamy), it was refreshing to read a novel where the main character doesn't just romp around with every man who takes an interest in her. I'm glad Knight incorporated so much of Anne's internal struggle in relation to her husband's former wife's adultery, and her own troubling feelings for another man. Her relationship with Edward isn't perfect - but it appears to be a good illustration of a fairly typical Tudor marriage - one that began for logistical reasons and morphed into one of deeper feelings (if not true love). Anne certainly experiences heartache and mixed emotions as it relates to men (and there is some satisfactory steam in this novel), but I was happy to see that I could actually respect Anne's moral choices.
In Knight's Author's Note, she admits to switching around certain dates in the story of Anne Seymour to add to her storytelling. While not everyone will be a fan of this creative license, I am happy with what she did, and I do think it added to the story. Without giving too much away, I was glad to see Anne's brother Richard play a role - when in reality he died before her court story even began. I also liked the fact that Henry VIII's mistress Anne Bassett was a constant figure at court throughout wife #3 - #5. In reality, Anne was only around for a brief time (mainly during Henry's short marriage to Anne of Cleves), and was considered as a potential wife #5.
3. Henry VIII's Humanity
I think I can say this without spoiling anything... When Jane Seymour's labor in 1537 was prolonged and physicians informed Henry that he may need to make a decision between saving the life of the mother or the child, in reality Henry reportedly chose the child. However, in Knight's portrayal, he passionately proclaims that his wife must be saved. I love this tweaking of history, because I am all about giving Henry the benefit of the doubt, and making him look a little more charming and lovable than he probably really was. I tend to be a sucker for novels that romanticize Henry VIII - maybe because in the pit of my heart I want to believe that he was a better person than we think. For this reason, his relationship with Jane (and especially this section), made me smile.
4. The Use of Poetry
At the beginning of every chapter, there is a section of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey's poem about Anne Seymour, and it carries on throughout the entire novel. At the beginning of the book, there is a poem by Henry VIII titled "If Love Now Reigned as it Hath Been," and within the story a courtier gives Anne a poem (which I correctly identified), written by Sir Thomas Wyatt - titled "The Long Love that in my Heart Doth Harbor." I love whenever an author can incorporate real pieces of Tudor literature, and these are seriously great poems.
Most of Henry's queens are easily characterized the same way by most authors... We've grown used to the stubborn, pious Katherine of Aragon, the vivacious, sultry Anne Boleyn, the sweet, demure Jane Seymour, the outcast Anne of Cleves, and the flight, silly Katherine Howard... but once we reach Catherine Parr, I think things get a little less clear. I've seen her portrayed differently by many authors, and I was grateful to read Knight's unique interpretation of her - as a rude, spiteful, and unlikable woman who became Anne Seymour's enemy. It's not that I dislike Catherine Parr - to be truthful, I have almost no feeling for her whatsoever, as I lose a lot of interest in Henry's final three wives, but I enjoyed reading this interesting portrayal. The storyline of Catherine Parr's character meshed really well with the well-defined court faction conflict that Knight was illustrating, and it made the story even more intriguing.
So, as you can see, there were many things I loved about this novel. Once I started it, I was hard pressed to put it down, and I finished it pretty quickly. I still can't say I'm the biggest fan of Anne Seymour (I remain convinced that she was probably meaner than she is portrayed here), but I really enjoyed diving into her humanity and innermost feelings. Her relationship with Edward was really interesting, and her conversations and friendships with other courtiers gave me a great peak into court life. I loved how, from cover to cover, we spanned eleven years - opening up with Anne Boleyn's execution and ending with Edward VI's coronation.
I highly encourage you to pick up this book and experience the world of Anne Seymour for yourself! I'll let you decide if you think she really is the "viper" that many thought she was, or if there may have been a softer, more sympathetic side to her.
Want to win a copy of "My Lady Viper"? Simply leave a comment for me below, letting me know why this novel looks interesting. Make sure to include your email so I can contact you if you're randomly selected! (Competition closes Sunday, May 11th at 11:59 pm)!
Special thanks to Amy Bruno from Passages from the Past and Eliza Knight, for the chance to read and review this fabulous book!