5 GOLD stars
On Amazon UK
How I discovered this book: Have been waiting for it to come out since I read its prequel.
In a Nutshell: Book #3 in the Phoenix Trilogy, about the life of Jane Seymour
LOVED this book so much I read it over a period of 28 hours - and it's not a short book! One of those I wish I hadn't started so I would still have it to read. My favourite of the trilogy, it picks up Jane's story on May 19th, 1936, the day of Anne Boleyn's death.
Gemma Lawrence has dispelled many of the traditional ideas about Jane Seymour, to present her, through detailed research and a clever understanding of her subject, as a woman who was not naturally meek and submissive, but afflicted by that frustrating paradox: of strong opinions but lacking the confidence to express them. She is painted as having a certain fierce determination that she used with skill when she wanted to wrest Henry from Anne, but otherwise kept quiet - most of the time. As Ms Lawrence says in the notes afterwards, Jane chose to speak up for those who suffered under the brutal dissolution of the monasteries, knowing this could put her at risk.
Lawrence's Jane is realistic; she sees that she was married 'on a whim', having been pushed at Henry as the antidote to the vivacious, outspoken, far too intelligent Anne Boleyn, and once the wooing was over Henry lost interest in her, which would not be regained until she became pregnant with Edward; this was her only safety blanket. I saw much possible truth in her view that Anne's death and all those that preceded it (Thomas More, the men accused of sleeping with her, etc) completely changed Henry from spoiled yet charismatic, magnanimous prince into to a greedy, delusional tyrant, and also that Anne was the great love of his life ... and he would never recover from having murdered her on charges that he knew, deep down, were false. Jane's fear of him leapt off the pages; no longer was he the man with whom she had fallen in love. She thought she saw an evil in him that was inhuman, and began to think of him, as did the rebels of the Pilgrimage of Grace, as the Mouldwarp of Merlin's prophecies - proud, malign and dangerous, yet cowardly.
'Thousands of monks and nuns...beggars were upon the roads of England in huge numbers. The King was displeased about this, and could not seem to see that he had created these people, thrown them into a life of desperation.'
'The King did not like the icons, but just wanted the money within them ... I had come to think that the King was lost to all reason, greed becoming his only master.'
Throughout, Jane talks to her dead predecessors, Anne and Katherine ... this is most effective, especially as she begins to see even Anne as a sister in arms. That their enemy is the man they fought over, not each other.
'Anne had gone to her death for standing in the way of what men wanted, for not bearing a son, not for a crime, not for betraying the King's life or his bed ... I was married to a murderer.'
I liked the evidence of the superstitions of the time, about conception, determining the sex of the baby, good and bad omens. They're fascinating to read. I loved the poetic descriptions of the landscape and the activities of the people, according to the seasons. The England of the 16th century, unsullied by industry, a time when the climate was quite different; good fiction of this time shows that climate change is certainly nothing new. The seasons did not mingle together with no clear definition as they do now; summers were hot, the autumn chilly, the winters ferociously cold, with rivers freezing solid enough to hold markets on them quite safely.
|Frost Fair on the Thames. 1685, artist unknown|
Jane's tragic death features throughout the book, short chapters interspersed within the main story, and this works so well, as does the epilogue from the POV of Mary, the King's daughter by Katherine.
Definitely up there with my favourite of this author's books, and also my favourite book of 2021 so far.