Review of Queen of Subtleties by Suzannah Dunn – 5 Stars

The Queen of Subtleties: A Novel of Anne BoleynThe Queen of Subtleties: A Novel of Anne Boleyn by Suzannah Dunn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Historical Fiction

I am very surprised by the number of low ratings this book received. Can an author provide a fresh approach to a part of history known by everyone and told to death? Actually yes, I think Dunn made a really good job of it. This book has several stories concealed within its pages all delicately woven together to make the reader turn the pages.

This story as you will probably already have gathered is a story of two halves. Strong-willed, stubborn Anne Boleyn prior to her imminent execution tells her story of her time at the court in the format of a letter to her daughter. The format of the story is quite fun and fiery and I think the author does a good job of getting the reader on Anne’s side. The author then turns the reader’s attention to the second storyline of that of the subtle subdued Lucy Cornwallis, confectionary chef to the king. Polar opposite of Anne, Lucy is quiet, humble and dedicated to her crafts.

The women’s stories are very loosely connected by their involvement with the lovely Mark Smeaton, wunderkind musician—the innocent on whom, ultimately, Anne’s downfall hinges.

I must say this is the first Suzannah Dunn book I have read and it pulled me in hook, line and sinker. Her writing style is superb, it’s easy to read, not boringly over-descriptive like some historical fiction novels are (although it captures plenty of historical contexts) and it keeps the story moving at a great pace. Obviously, Anne’s story is the most exciting (which I think is to be expected).

The main reason others seem to be upset with this novel is the modern tone of language used. Granted there are probably some better wording or phrasing that the author could have used here (Henry telling courtiers to skedaddle) and there but overall I found the tone very readable and if it had been told in the language of the Tudor times this would ultimately have made it far less enjoyable for me. So, I guess it is something to be aware of but don’t let it put you off.

Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:

“My uncle never read a book, and he’s proud of the fact. Ruthlessness and efficiency; that’s what matters. He’ll clap you on the back, one day; stab you in it, the next. No hard feelings, just business as usual. Never trust a Howard, Elizabeth, not even if you are one. Look where it got me, sent here to the Tower by my own uncle.”

I think Dunn has done a great job of capturing the period, the courts, all the moving and touring, and of course the feasts. Fun and interesting concepts that make this book a delight to read.

A fantastic novelist! Cannot wait to read many more of her works.

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Review of The Confessions of Katherine Howard by Suzannah Dunn

The Confession of Katherine HowardThe Confession of Katherine Howard by Suzannah Dunn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I discovered this novel in the local library and thought the story blurb sounded interesting. This is novel tells the story of Katherine Howard from the perspective Cat Tilney, the poor relation in the Howard house. Cat has been brought up under the pressure of her mother to better herself in every way possible, but mostly through marrying well. Katherine appears to have no such pressure and is only interested in clothes and boys. Despite this the two girls do become close, when Katherine catches Henry’s eye she somehow becomes queen of England, a fate she never expected but soon allegations are made about her girlhood love affairs. Cat alone knows the truth and with own lover Francis at risk as a suspect will she sacrifice her friends secrets.
The story had an interesting premise, a true story told from the unique perspective of Cat, Katherine’s childhood friend and later lady in waiting. The author seems to have researched a lot of details making it very realistic. The split between the childhood and adulthood timeline also works very well! Suspense, drama, passion, history, and innocence all add to this dramatic story.
I did feel the settings could be explored a little bit more, I would have really liked to have a little bit better feel of the glamour of the courts etc. I would also have liked to have read a little bit more about Henry himself as he is only really referenced in the story. These are just trivial details that certainly don’t detract from the story but I would have loved to have seen them added.
This book captures your interest in a beautiful historic setting, giving a fairly well known story a refreshing view. These books will appeal to most historical fiction fans especially those of Philippa Gregory. I will certainly keep an eye out for more from this author.

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