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How I discovered this book: one of my favourite writers; I've been following this series.
In a Nutshell: Book 4 of a series about Lady Jane Rochford, set during the reign and downfall of Anne Boleyn.
The fall of the Boleyns is such a terrifying and sad story, and Gemma Lawrence has told it here in a most compelling fashion from the point of view of Lady Jane Rochford, George Boleyn's wife.
Reading about the period after Anne, George and their friends had been executed, leaving Jane all alone and out of favour with just about everyone, I was struck by the way in which her whole life was lived in relation to other people. In the notes at the back, Ms Lawrence described Jane as the watcher, just out of focus; isn't that perfect? Jane felt that without her status as George's wife and one of Anne's senior ladies, she faded away. The feeling I had about her was more than that, though; I noticed, throughout, that there was nothing in her life that was just for Jane. Scarcely a book, a favoured food, a pastime, a preference. As though it never occurred to her that what she wanted mattered.
Her childlessness must have had a huge impact on her feelings of worthlessness and invisibility; I am sure the way Ms Lawrence has portrayed her is close to the truth. Although during the first third I felt a little frustrated by the book being more about Anne than Jane herself, told in reported and overheard conversation, I daresay that this is a good representation of Jane's life. That only her involvement with others gave her existence any validity. Her days were marked by events at court, even when she was not there, rather than anything that actually happened to her.
'There were no morals in the world anymore, just varying degrees of monster'.
...and the greatest monster of all was the King himself. A small man who gorged himself and postured, to fill the emptiness inside. Reading historical fiction about his reign (mostly by Ms Lawrence), I have long felt that he deeply regretted what he did to Anne and all those others who'd died on his watch, and his conscience could not deal with it. Though he appeared to have little conscience during the dissolution of the monasteries, for his own vanity and to distribute largesse amongst those currently in favour.
I like how, in this series, Jane is given slight psychic abilities. Nothing too outlandish, just enough to be believable. It adds another, most interesting dimension to her story - and this book certainly blows apart the myth that Jane Seymour was the most loved of Henry's wives. I imagine the reality was that, as Jane Rochford observes, he very quickly grew tired of Seymour's pale character. Of course, he hadn't got a clue what he really wanted, other than a son; he thought Seymour a soothing balm during his tempestuous relationship with Anne, but without the latter, the former must have been less appealing.
'He did not care what she wanted. He wanted her to nod and agree with him, get fat with a son and be silent. She was not his love or equal. She was livestock.
And though she said it not, Jane knew that.'
The notes at the end show which parts are fact, and which parts are dramatic invention. I was fascinated to read that Jane really did write to Cromwell asking for help after George's death, and that the letter still survives!
It's a jolly good book, and I particularly liked the end fifteen per cent or so: the aftermath of the May murders, and Jane Seymour's growing realisation that she is in as much potential danger as anyone else in her husband's orbit. I very much look forward to the next episode!