I stumbled upon "The Raven's Widow" via a Talking Tudors podcast episode interview with author Adrienne Dillard. I was immediately interested in her as an author - being a fellow American with a lifelong fascination with the Tudor dynasty. Not to mention, she's a mother, a full-time employee, and somehow finds the time to write Tudor fiction in her 'spare time' (my dream)! Her subjects for Tudor novels are really interesting to me - this one being centered around Jane Boleyn, and her other popular novel, "Cor Rotto" being focused on Catherine Carey - daughter of Mary Carey (nee Boleyn). I simply had to get my hands on copies of these books to read and share with my readers, so many thanks to Adrienne for sending them to me. Without further ado, let's talk about "The Raven's Widow!"
Therefore, it was really refreshing to read a novel that paints Jane as a human - with real, tangible, empathetic qualities. You want to understand her from the moment you begin this story, and you feel for her human emotions, challenges, and difficult decisions throughout the book. I appreciate that a historical fiction author took the time to reframe Jane's life for modern readers.
The book goes back and forth between Jane's earlier life - where we're introduced to her association with the Boleyn family starting in the 1520s - as well as her later years as a prisoner in the Tower of London between 1541-2. Jane's life was a tumultuous one, and these two periods of time were certainly the most crucial and formational of her (short) life. Between the 1520s-30s, she married George Boleyn, becoming Lady Rochford upon the Boleyn family's rise to prominence alongside the notorious Anne Boleyn - King Henry VIII's second queen. In this story, Jane and Anne are extremely close - acting as best friends and true sisters, and this was a dynamic I really enjoyed reading.
The later part of her life is discussed less in this novel, and I actually liked that. I appreciated having the focus be placed on the Boleyn story, rather than Jane's involvement in Catherine Howard's affair with Thomas Culpeper - which led to her ultimate downfall alongside Henry VIII's fifth queen. Instead, we're shown Jane's imprisonment and gradually-declining mental state as she realizes that she's nearing the executioner's block - with only brief glimpses into her memory and mindset as it relates to Catherine. The story is tied together beautifully as both the falls of Anne Boleyn (1536) and Catherine Howard (1542) meet at the end of the book - and Jane, too, meets her demise. This was really tastefully done, and I appreciated the way Adrienne handled a really sensitive and sad plot. Jane's story isn't a pretty one - filled with tragedy, loss, and her own impending death - and so I can imagine it was not an easy one to write.
What sticks out the most to me is Jane's attachment to her deceased husband at the end of the book. In one act of incredible kindness, she is allowed to visit George's unmarked burial place in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula on the Tower of London grounds - just before her own execution. This was certainly the most touching of all scenes in the book, and reinforced the idea that Jane and George were very much in love - again, a refreshing change from the depiction we too often see.
This is a worthy addition to any Tudor shelf, and I encourage my readers to pick it up if they haven't already! Who knows? Maybe in the near future we'll be able to get Adrienne to answer a few questions about the writing of this novel and her own personal feelings about Jane Boleyn. Watch this space!
Thank you again, Adrienne, for the opportunity to read and review "The Raven's Widow"!
- Website: Adrienne Dillard | Revealing the Hidden Figures in History (adrienne-dillard.com)
- Twitter: @ajdillard81