In an enduring tale, filled with intrigue and glamour, love and lust, Brandy Purdy invites the reader into the dynamic world of the Tudors, with her novel The Boleyn Wife. Her heroine Jane in particular, is a vibrant character, not black or white, but with infinite shades of gray. Easily dismissed by all, her words and actions will destroy the Boleyn family, and seal the fates of two of the Queens of Henry VIII.
Timid and unremarkable, Jane Parker falls in love with her future husband George Boleyn, before she even knows his name. Determined to have him, despite her father’s misgivings and with little encouragement from her chosen partner, she is dismayed to find that she has a rival for his affections. His sister, Anne, is the darling of her family, the young fops who are her constant companions, and eventually, the court of King Henry VIII. Through Jane’s narration, she comes across as a vapid, scheming woman with no real beauty to recommend her. Yet she has everything Jane wants, especially George’s love. Though they are married, Jane seethes with jealousy at his continued devotion to his sister, his love of friends, gaming and prostitutes. Even worse, she is consistently at Anne’s side, watching while the King and courtiers fall under her spell.
When Henry secretly weds Anne and she bears their only daughter Elizabeth, Jane foresees the beginning of the end for her rival, even as she weeps for her own lack of a child with George. She is merciless and heartless in revealing Henry’s growing infidelities to a beleaguered Anne. Her desperation achieves none of her goals; George continually shrinks from her and clings to his sister. Unwittingly, Jane plays her role in Anne’s ending with the support of Henry’s advisor Thomas Cromwell, and also seals the fate of her beloved George in the process.
Through Jane’s eyes, the reader also meets Henry’s later Queens. There is the tragic Jane Seymour, mother the prince whom Henry has destroyed his first two marriages to have; Anna of Cleves, who is not quite what she seems, and finally Katherine Howard, whose past and her association with Jane will lead to the downfall of both women. At the end of her life, Jane is haunted by the ghosts of her past, a shadow of the woman who helped engineer Anne Boleyn’s death.
In towering majesty of Tudor castles and the murky depths of dungeons where the King’s enemies, real or perceived, live out their last, Ms. Purdy’s detailed accounts of the period, a myriad of characters and the settings take the reader on an engrossing journey to the past. A few scenes seemed contrived, requiring Jane to always be at the right place and the right time whenever something went tragically wrong for Anne; whether by peeking through a bedroom door, or being the first to deliver tragic news that caused Anne to suffer her last miscarriage. Jane has gone down in history as the woman who helped destroy Anne Boleyn, but in Ms. Purdy’s portrayal, her enduring love for her husband inspires even her most deceitful, damning actions. She remains a woman of many contrasts; devoted to George, but pitiable in her desperation for his affection, made vulnerable by her undying love for him, yet also powerful, in her proximity to the doomed Anne. The Boleyn Wife is an unforgettable read.