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Book Review: At the Mercy of the Queen

Posted by gck Tuesday, January 31, 2012


At the Mercy of the Queen: A Novel of Anne Boleyn by Anne Clinard Barnhill

Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: *** (out of 5)
Recommended for: fans of Philippa Gregory and Tudor era historical fiction
Received ARC e-galley through NetGalley.

Back-cover summary:
A sweeping tale of sexual seduction and intrigue at the court of Henry VIII, At the Mercy of the Queen is a rich and dramatic debut historical about Madge Shelton, cousin and lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn.

At the innocent age of fifteen, Lady Margaret Shelton arrives at the court of Henry VIII and quickly becomes the confidante of her cousin, Queen Anne Boleyn. But she soon finds herself drawn into the perilous web of Anne’s ambition.

Desperate to hold onto the king’s waning affection, Anne schemes to have him take her guileless young cousin as mistress, ensuring her husband’s new paramour will owe her loyalty to the queen. But Margaret has fallen deeply in love with a handsome young courtier. She is faced with a terrible dilemma: give herself to the king and betray the love of her life or refuse to become his mistress and jeopardize the life of her cousin, Queen Anne.

My review:
I was excited to read another book from the Tudor period of history, especially since the story was told from a different perspective. The main character is Margaret Shelton, the cousin of Anne Boleyn who comes to court to be one of the Queen's ladies.

Observing the changes in Queen Anne's character and her relationship with the King through the novel is a highlight of this novel. Anne Boleyn is often portrayed unsympathetically, as a scheming, manipulative, heartless woman. Here, in the eyes of a friend, she may be hardened by a political life, but she is otherwise a person who cares about her friends and religion. Still, society blames the corrupt actions of King Henry and his cohorts on the Queen. The King is a weak, spoiled, and unpredictable character, and as his behavior wears on Anne, she begins to lose her temper with him more often, and she heads on the path to her doom.

On the side, Margaret has problems of her own that eventually are entangled with the Queen's problems. However, it's a lot harder to care about her struggles. Margaret, or "Pretty Madge" from Great Snoring (sigh...), is a very flat character. She doesn't seem to have many distinguishable traits other than her beauty. The men who struggle for her affection are similarly uninteresting. Norris is the bad guy who does bad things. Arthur Brandon is the good guy who does good things, but of course, he's not good enough for her because of his illegitimate birth. Gosh, it's like a Nicholas Sparks novel, except instead of a fatal disease, Madge gets the King. The writing flows smoothly enough, but some of the dialogue sounds more awkward than it should be, even given the time period.

I haven’t read as much fiction as I’d like from this time period, so at this point, I measure all of these books against The Other Boleyn Girl. I find that this one falls a bit short. What intrigues me about these stories at the royal court are all the intrigues, subtlies, and motivations. Since Madge is naïve and good-intentioned when she comes to court and only slowly learns to be more political as the story goes on, there isn’t too much of this on her part or observed in the other big players, characters like Jane Seymour and her family, the Duke of Norfolk, and Cromwell. Without this, it is a light retelling of a larger story that is fun enough to read, but it doesn’t linger long in the mind.


  1. The Other Boleyn Girl is on my list. Have to read it after I am done with Heyer's Friday's Child. Which do you reco, the movie or the book first?

  2. gck Says:
  3. Sorry for the late reply, I have been in China, where Blogspot was blocked. :( I would recommend reading the book first and not bothering at all with the movie. It wasn't great.


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