After the death of Jane Seymour the Tudor dynasty is once again in need of a queen to give the country an heir and Henry VIII decides to marry Anne of Cleves. Soon after her arrival however it becomes obvious that there would be no heir and that the king is infatuated with the young Katherine Howard, his "rose without a thorn". With Anne's future more uncertain than ever she almost believes that death would be better than going back to Cleves and hopes for a solution that would save her from both her brother and her husband.
This is a story about Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Jane Boleyn, three women tangled up in the events of Henry VIII's fourth and fifth marriages, three women having to deal with the consequences of Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn because it affected all their lives in one way or another. It is unusual in that these women take turns talking about the same events as history progresses and takes them from their ordinary lives and to the royal chambers. This was the first book I've read that was written in the first person but still had the effect of 3rd person omniscient perspective and I thought that having three separate narrators was a simple but ingenious solution. The only downside was that with the narrators changing every chapter and the chapters being rather short it took several cycles to get used to the switches but the voices are very distinctive once the switching wasn't confusing any more I enjoyed seeing what the different narrators thought about how their lives unfolded and I actually looked forward to Anne's chapters - she was the one I could relate to the most.
Creating surprising plot developments in a story where the outcome is as common knowledge as it is here is challenging and I didn't expect any. It was interesting however to discover how Phillippa Gregory envisioned the people who lived in those tragic times and who either shaped history or fell victim to those who did. I sympathized with Anne, felt sorry for Katherine and couldn't help but find Jane disturbing throughout the book. The men such as Henry and the Duke of Norfolk mainly left me feeling incredulous at how they manipulated or bullied those around them, how what they wanted mattered most regardless of how many lives were sacrificed for either their whim or power lust and how nobody could stop them because they were either too clever and careful or because there simply wasn't anyone to reign them in.
I've come to expect superb writing from Gregory and this book does not disappoint. I look forward to reading the other installments in her Tudor series, especially since historical fiction from authors who don't take excessive liberties with the facts is my favorite way to learn about history. If you enjoy historical fiction in general and tales of Henry and his six wives in particular I would recommend this book to you.