Kensington Publishing Company asked me to review Brandy Purdy's upcoming novel, The Boleyn Bride, a few weeks ago, and I was so happy to do it! I hadn't heard of this book before, but as soon as I read the synopsis, I was intrigued. Not only is it written about a lesser-known figure in Tudor history, it is written about someone who holds a lot of intrigue because of her relation to quite a popular Tudor figure. This story is about none other than Lady Elizabeth Howard - later Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire - and mother to Anne Boleyn. Now this is a woman I don't know enough about - and it seems not many people do because of how little was recorded about her life. However, that seems to be exactly why this novel was so fascinating and fun to read - Brandy Purdy wove a unique and intriguing story about a woman who made choices in her life based on vanity and false ideas of happiness, only to be surprised by her disappointing "ugly duckling" daughter, Anne, and to experience the most misery a mother could ever dream of. What a fantastic idea for a story, and what a beautifully crafted result!
One of the first pages of this novel displays a passage from Ecclesiastes 2:11 from the Holy Bible:
"Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun."
There couldn't be a better quote to start this novel off - it perfectly describes Purdy's portrayal of Elizabeth, which is, admittedly, fictional - but flows perfectly with the story we already know so well, about her daughter Anne. The prologue opens with Elizabeth lamenting her children's deaths and admitting to herself that she was an utter failure of a mother. Remarking on her insane vanity, her promiscuous nature, and her unhappy marriage to "that Judas," Thomas Boleyn. She talks about regretting much in her life, but even her remorseful words can't mask the fact that she is a hard and bitter woman at her core. Brandy Purdy does an excellent job of setting the stage for this story, just in the opening several pages - I was hooked!
The main story begins with the sixteen-year-old Elizabeth, preparing for a respectable marriage to a high-born handsome courtier, only to be horrifyingly surprised when her betrothal to a merchant's son (Thomas Boleyn) is announced. But Elizabeth has been born and raised to mask her emotions - she holds her head high, plasters on a smile, and graciously takes her new husband's hand - though inside she is reeling and furious. We see many glimpses of Elizabeth's terribly ugly side - especially when she kicks her poor lady's maid out of their coach, leaving her weeping in the mud without a moment's regret. Such are the moments that define Elizabeth Boleyn's character!
I really enjoyed Purdy's descriptions of Elizabeth's children, too. Those were, perhaps, the most interesting parts of the story - because we already know Anne, George, and Mary - but it was so fun to read about such a unique portrayal of them. In the midst of a series of miserable miscarriages, still borns, and infant deaths, Mary was Elizabeth's "golden girl" - the beauty, the sweetheart, the one who held all the promise. George was the "moody" one, who frequently switched between laughter and thunderous rages. He was dark and handsome, and Elizabeth thought quite highly of him as well - though she could never really admit to loving any of her children. Anne, however, was the "ugly duckling," the outlier, and the one who utterly disappointed her mother. She came into the world in a bloody, painful rage and ruined Elizabeth's womb for future childbearing - raining down Thomas's wrath, much to Elizabeth's dismay and annoyance. From Anne's childhood, her mother despised her - even once going so far as to holding a pillow over her face in a sudden murderous rage… until George walked into the room. Now this was a very clever way to paint the close relationship between Anne and George - beginning in early childhood as George's way of protecting Anne from their hateful mother. Very clever, and their relationship grew even more intimate, sweet, and loving as they grew into adulthood - though thankfully Purdy never painted an incestuous picture of the two of them.
Purdy's description of Anne's fall and execution was also clever. Instead of harping on the well known details most of us can probably spout off without thinking about, she very tastefully brushed over the unnecessary details and focused on Elizabeth's side of it all - namely, her regret, second thoughts, and admittances about her failures as a mother. By the end of the novel, all three of her children are dead to her (two of them literally, and one figuratively). She recognizes her many faults but can do nothing to change them - she can only wallow in the grief that seems to consume her in the wake of her failed life. Truly, the adjectives and descriptions Purdy uses throughout the novel (but especially the prologue and epilogue) to describe Elizabeth's grief is absolutely beautiful. Tear-jerking and heartfelt, the reader really gets a sense for the miserable life that is Elizabeth Boleyn's, and it makes for an incredibly intriguing and heartbreaking story.
Though I had read one other novel by Brandy Purdy before this - The Tudor Throne - it didn't capture my attention or interest nearly as much as this one did. I was really moved by Elizabeth's story, and loved the amount of detail and attention Purdy put into her writing. I would gladly recommend it to any lover of Tudor historical fiction!
The Boleyn Bride won't be released until February 25th, 2014, but anyone who's interested can pre-order on Amazon at the following link: http://www.amazon.com/The-Boleyn-Bride-Brandy-Purdy/dp/0758273363.
I highly encourage anyone who is even remotely interested in Elizabeth Boleyn's story to pick up this book and give it a shot. It comes very highly recommended by The Tudor Enthusiast!
Thank you to Kensington Publishing Co. and Jane Nutter for the opportunity to read and review this novel!