5 GOLD stars
On Amazon UK
How I discovered this book: One of my favourite authors, I've been dying to read this since I knew it was being written!
In a Nutshell: The early life of Jane Seymour, from childhood to her arrival at court and first meeting with Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn.
Loved, loved, loved this book. Best so far this year!
I was so intrigued to see how Gemma Lawrence would portray Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII, as relatively little is known about her. Traditionally, she is the meek and mousey one, the antithesis of the charismatic, sophisticated Anne Boleyn, the biddable daughter of the proud Seymour family of Wolf Hall (Wulfhall), minimally educated (she could barely read). Ms Lawrence has brought her to life. In Nest of Ashes we see a timid girl, plain of face, a disappointment to her more socially adept mother, bullied by brother Thomas (who I have long thought seemed a nasty piece of work) - and the keeper of a dark, dark family secret.
One of the most well-known stories about the Seymours is that elder brother Edward's wife, Catherine, was cast out for having an affair with his, and Jane's, father, John. Ms Lawrence writes this as having coloured Jane's whole life.
Of course, historical fiction based on fact will always contain some aspects that are purely the author's imagination, and with those about whom little is known there is more of a necessity to create events and scenarios. Unlike her series about Anne and Elizabeth I, both of whose lives are well-documented, Nest of Ashes features much of Ms Lawrence's own creation, but it is written with such understanding of her character(s) and the era that every part of the story is completely feasible. She sees Jane as I have always thought she was - reserved, lacking in confidence and unremarkable, yes, but with a certain harsh ambition derived from the desire to rise above those who considered her unimportant - including members of her own family. More than this, you will have to discover for yourself when you read it (that is 'when', not 'if'!).
Alongside the story of Jane's life, in which I was completely engrossed, all the way through, Ms Lawrence gives so much detail about how the people of the time lived, with their customs and day-to-day routines ~ fascinating. There is one chapter in which Jane visits the cottage of a 'cunning woman', which I loved. Never does she make the mistake, as a lesser writer might, of writing Jane's reactions as though she was a woman of our time. This book brought home to me how restricted people were by their belief in an often wrathful god who ruled all their lives.
The last part of the book describes Jane's arrival at court, and her first impressions of Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, little knowing what part she will play in the life of the latter. As the end grew nearer, I tried to read it slowly, and after I'd read the last page I actually moaned out loud because there was no more - suffice to say that I am counting the weeks until the next part is published!
Intricate historical detail, complex family drama, love, lust, loss and intrigue - it's a terrific book. One of my favourites by this author, and I can't recommend it too highly.