The author of The Other Boleyn Girl (2002) returns to the executed queen's doomed family in a historical novel that maps the sad demise of Henry VIII in a series of intimate personal testimonies.
Gregory's tale of greed and revenge takes place against the short, unhappy tenures of Henry's fourth and fifth wives. Jockeying for position close to the throne, three powerful, ambitious women collide. The author skillfully allows each character to tell her side of the story in her own words. The first voice we hear belongs to 30-year-old Jane Boleyn, widowed sister-in-law to Anne. Jane's husband George was implicated in his sister's alleged infidelities and went with her to the scaffold in 1533; his calculating wife moved to save her inheritance rather than her husband and six years later is still scheming. Next up is Anne of Cleves, soon to be Queen Number Four, a provincial, German-speaking Protestant princess chosen by Henry's advisor, Thomas Cromwell, as a politically suitable alliance to keep Spain and France at bay. Badgered and bullied all her life by her brother and mother, 24-year-old Anne wants nothing more than to escape Cleves and have a meaningful life. The third voice belongs to Katherine Howard, a pretty, 15-year-old cousin of the dead Anne Boleyn and an incorrigible flirt who is brought to court as a lady-in-waiting by her conniving, powerful uncle, the Duke of Norfolk. Also summoned to court to attend the new queen, Jane begins plotting behind the scenes with Norfolk to assure Anne of Cleve's hasty fall and Katherine's quick ascent in Henry's favor. Gregory's knowledge of the period, combined with her novelistic skill, allows her to view this grim tale through the eyes of the three women: wily, experienced Jane; na™ve, sensible Anne; and vain, greedy young Kitty. Their first-person accounts are convincing and shockingly self-serving.