by James Peacock
The story of Anne Boleyn has admittedly been “done to death” when it comes historical fiction. There are a ton of books out of there featuring Anne in some way or another. I must admit that before I read Struck with the Dart of Love: Je Anne Boleyn, Book One, there was a part of me that was apprehensive. Not long after I started reading the novel, however, I learned my apprehensions were needless.
Both Je Anne Boleyn novels are told from the viewpoint of Anne Boleyn. For me, Sandra Vasoli truly “gets” Anne. She understands the different sides of Anne’s personality: her charm, her intelligence, her wit, her courage, her passion, her ambition — even her jealousy and insecurities. Sandy doesn’t fall into the trap that so many fictional authors do by presenting Anne Boleyn as a “perfect saint”, instead crafting Anne’s true humanity.
The plot begins when Henry VIII first notices Anne (Vol I) and ends with her journey to the scaffold (Vol II). Henry is portrayed a lot more sympathetically than I have read in many other accountings, his relationship with Anne one of equal partners. I personally like how Sandy uniquely portrayed Anne and Henry’s relationship, as most authors portray one or the other as ruling the roost. In many ways, the similarities between Henry and Anne can be viewed as both a strength of their relationship, as well as it’s undoing. All too often, the easy (and in my opinion “lazy”) story is that their relationship cooled after Elizabeth’s birth. This is not the case here! Of course, there are occasional rows throughout (as we know there were), but this is presented as them being a typical married couple.
The story touches upon Anne’s education at the court of Margaret of Austria, her service to Queen Claude of France, and her relationship and admiration for one of the finest figures of the French Renaissance and one of the large players in the Reformation, Marguerite of Navarre.
A wonderful side to Anne’s personality is shown, one that those who have studied her life (such as myself) know about, but all too often gets ignored — namely Anne’s compassion and her charity! This is something that gets a strong focus throughout the books. We see Anne’s devotion to religion, as well as her support of William Tyndale, a man considered a heretic for his challenging of the Roman Catholic Church. Anne is always portrayed in a caring capacity, such as the kindness she displayed towards one of her servants dying of the sweating sickness epidemic (Vol I). We also gain a glimpse of “the family orientated” Anne. Upset at the rumored whispers that surround her sister Mary, Anne enjoyed a sweet relationship with her mother, as well as a close relationship with her brother — a rapport that was ultimately twisted against them.
That doesn’t mean that the difficult relationship between Anne and her stepdaughter Mary is washed over at all, nor her eventual banishment from court of her sister Mary for marrying a man below her rank. Anne’s pleasure in the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey is also highlighted. We also see many times where Anne tries to guard her tongue and control her temper.
Another special point of both novels is the descriptions throughout of the various locations, such as the palaces, castles, abbeys, and manor homes that Anne and Henry visited. This brings the story to life and will make you feel you are in the story visualising these places. The mention of the “Bayne Tower” at Hampton Court Palace and the bath and sophisticated water system Henry had placed there are a real treat for readers and very informative. Sadly these rooms no longer survive, but you can see the outer building which is now a cafe.
Other highlights include the 1532 trip to Calais and subsequent secret wedding, the coronation, the devotion that Anne has towards her daughter (which admittedly we already know), the personal tragedy of 1534, the 1535 Reformation progress, and of course the tragic end, which shows the great courage that Anne Boleyn possessed.
Sandy clearly understands perfectly the trials and tribulations Anne endured, envisioning her views of how Anne must have felt. As I said previously, Sandy Vasoli truly “gets” Anne Boleyn 100%, presenting her – in what is my own opinion – in the best way Anne has ever been presented in any historical drama, whether that be in movies, television, and other fictional books — even my all time favorite Anne of the Thousand Days. I cannot begin to describe how many times I felt myself going “YES” inside my head while I read it, as I believed parts were just so “spot on”.
These books present Anne as she was: intelligent, charismatic, witty, religious, charitable, passionate, while also occasionally temperamental, hot-headed and sharp-tongued. If you love historical fiction, you will love these as they are easy to read and digest, are beautifully written. You will learn many interesting things about Anne Boleyn, as it is incredibly factual as well.
I long for the day when the Je Anne Boleyn books get turned into a television series or movie.
ABOUT JAMES PEACOCK
James Peacock is 29 years old and lives in a suburb in Greater London. Originally training and working in Youth and Community, in 2013 he decided to follow in his lifelong passion for history with a particular interest in Anne Boleyn. He currently works at a historical site heavily associated with Anne Boleyn. (See the picture… hint, hint.) In 2014, he set up ‘The Anne Boleyn Society’ which exists to promote and bring awareness to the role that Anne Boleyn contributed to England’s history and her role in the reformation. The Anne Boleyn Society can be found on Facebook, Twitter (@Society_Anne) and Instagram (@society_anne). James also writes articles for queenanneboleyn.com. Visit his blog here at QAB. CLICK HERE!