Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Book: Secrets of the Tudor Court by Darcey Bonnette

Secrets of the Tudor Court follows the story of Mary Howard, a Howard girl eclipsed by those more famous, such as Mary and Anne Bolyen, and Katherine Howard. The story travels through from her father summoning her to court at 11, right through to her death during the reign of Queen Mary I, including her ill fated marriage to the illegitimate son of Henry VIII, Henry Fitzroy and her friendship with Catherine Parr and reformist beliefs.

Link to Goodreads
Link to amazon

Mary is that rare thing in Henry VIII's court, a woman who witnessed and served for the rises and falls of all the Queens, without being arrested or banished. Before reading Secrets of the Tudor Court, I had barely given Mary a thought, despite the fact that she could have been Queen herself if things had played out differently, despite the fact that she is a character in most of the novels centred around the Tudor Court, and this novel interested me in her. Most novels centred around the Howard rises to power focus on the Queens, Anne and Kathryn, or the mistress, Mary Boleyn, yet the daughter of the man behind those Queens, and the wife of the King's illegitimate son, seems to have been forgotten to the passage of time, at least in fiction.

The character that Bonnette has written is one that just wants to be free, from the constraints of her father, and the oppression of the time, in fact the character reminds me a lot of the Mary Boleyn that Phillipa Gregory created in the Other Boleyn Girl, though Bonnette's own portrayal of Mary Boleyn seems to be along the same, sympathetic lines. True to history, Mary Howard was a passionate reformer, though this is mentioned in the novel, not a lot of religion is actually evident. Fundamentally it feels like the character is a dreamer, who always looks for the best in people, even if they have given her reason not to, the perfect example being her father, and she is loyal, to her family, to her friends and to her beliefs.

I found that reading the relationship between Mary and her father, Norfolk, could become quite uncomfortable at times, this is for several reasons. The first is the repeated violence that Norfolk uses against Mary (and other characters though readers don't witness that so much), which is something that has been extracted from the contemporary rumours of the time, and so the inclusion of this personality trait does make sense. The fact that I was made uncomfortable is not necessarily a bad thing, it is in fact a compliment to the writing style as the descriptions of it were quite vivid and realistic, in fact the scenes of violence invoked more of an emotional reaction in me than the scenes of romance. The second reason is that the aforementioned relationship involved years of abuse, and yet Mary still loves Norfolk and goes running to him whenever he asks for her, anyone having that much power over someone seems wrong.

The final reason why Mary and Norfolk's relationship makes me uncomfortable is more to do with how I read and interpreted the book. At the end of the book (a physical book I might add, shocking I know!), there are a list of questions to think about, one of which asks about why the reader thinks Mary is so obsessed with Norfolk's hands. This got me thinking about how Norfolk was written, and it seemed to me that the way that Mary visualises him, and looks up to him, is almost sexual. She always seemed to be assessing his stature, hands or hair, and was constantly desiring him to be physically affectionate. As I said it was just a feeling that I had while reading about how she wanted her father's love, and would be really interested to see if any other readers though the same.

Mentioning hair above...recently there has been a spate of critics saying that certain authors (for example, George RR Martin and Suzanne Collins have both been mentioned) write 'food porn', overly descriptive descriptions of food. That being the case, I can only say that Bonnette writes 'hair porn', there were a lot of descriptions of how people's hair looked, almost all the time. One could probably say that this was because we were in the head of a teenage girl and then young woman, so we were bound to have physical assets described, but I just wanted to mention it!

Though at times the writing style could seem a little choppy, I thought that Secrets of the Tudor Court captured the intrigue that Tudor Court novels centre around, particularly well, and I didn't want to stop turning the pages!