Monday 22 May 2023

SERVANT OF DEATH by Gemma Lawrence @TudorTweep

5 GOLD stars

On Amazon (universal link)
On Goodreads

How I discovered this book: Not so much discovered as awaited its release with great impatience!

In a Nutshell: The sixth and final installment of The Armillary Sphere series about Lady Jane Rochford, who served five of Henry VIII's queens and was married to George Boleyn, brother of Anne.

When I finished this book I felt a gap in my reading life; I kept subconsciously thinking I had it still to go back to then realising, with disappointment, that I hadn't.  LOVED it, probably the best of the series.  

Servant of Death takes us up to the downfall of poor sweet Catherine Howard and, of course, Jane.  If it wasn't for the fact that he was a murderous, self-absorbed tyrant who gave new meaning to the word 'narcissist', one could almost have felt sorry for Henry VIII, so cleverly has Ms Lawrence described how he adored Catherine and thought he'd finally found his perfect woman - though actually what he adored was his fantasy of her, as he neither knew her nor had any inkling that she lived in fear of him, not love.  His 'love' for her was but a reflection of the image of himself that her presence provided.  In this book we see so clearly the desperation that he thought was his own secret, not knowing how everyone else could see that Catherine was his last hurrah, as in vain he tried to stop the last grains of youth falling through the fat fingers that signed the death warrants for wives and friends alike.

This series has shown how, throughout her life, Jane was in the shadows of everyone else's dramas, with little opportunity to find happiness for herself, or even to work out what that happiness might have included, had she the freedom to find it.  As well as Catherine's times with Culpepper, I was glad for both her and Jane that they found comfort in their friendship; both their lives were robbed from them by the men in their world, from the very start.  In this finale, more than in the other books, the sense of women having no control over their own lives is starkly shown.  

The slow build-up to the point when Jane and Catherine were placed under house arrest (or apartment/chamber arrest, I suppose) was horribly sinister, especially as there was a whisper of what was happening on the wind.  I wondered how Ms Lawrence would depict Jane's alleged lapse into insanity at the end of her life, and the way in which she did so was most convincing; I felt almost as though Jane was freeing herself of society's behavioural requirements, and allowing her head to go in whichever direction it pleased.

I highly recommend this whole series, particularly the last three.  Highly, highly, highly - and two days on, that gap in my reading life remains.

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