Anne Clinard Barnhill, who graces the pages of this blog with reviews from time to time, is recovering from surgery at the moment. We wish her all the best, especially since she needs to get busy writing reviews and finishing her second novel.
I interviewed Anne earlier this year for a profile in the Greensboro News & Record in connection with her novel’s arrival from St. Martin’s in January. I’ve known her for years, although we’ve met in person only once or twice, I think. She’s a wife, mother, grandmother, longtime teacher and dedicated writer. Over the years, she’s had poetry and short stories published by small presses, and she’s energetically participated in workshops and readings.
She told me in January that she’d wanted to be a novelist for almost all her 60 years. And since, as a teenager, she discovered a distant kinship with Anne Boleyn, she’s also been fascinated with English Tudor history. In a stroke of serendipity, her two passions converged, and she’s hit the big time with a novel about Anne Boleyn.
Best wishes to Anne for a speedy recovery.
By Linda C. Brinson
AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN. By Anne Clinard Barnhill. St. Martin’s Griffin. 448 pages. $14.99, paperback.
I’m not the best person to review this book. Anne Barnhill happily discovered a few years ago that there’s a lively genre of historical fiction focusing on the Tudors in England, a genre with many avid readers, and one of them could probably do a better job. But I did want to let readers know of Barnhill’s success – and let them know that her debut novel is an interesting, entertaining book.
Reading At the Mercy of the Queen brought to mind a quote that’s widely said to have been written by Abraham Lincoln in a book review, something along the lines of “those who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.”
I would amend that to say that those who are enamored of Tudor historical fiction will likely find this a special treat, because, I am told, it’s not a clone of other such Tudor fiction. That’s probably because Anne Barnhill hasn’t spent years reading and imitating such books. Instead, she’s spent years honing her writing skills while indulging her passion to learn all she could about her relatives, the Shelton cousins of Anne Boleyn, and the times in which they lived. She’s been able to write what reviewers who are more knowledgeable than I say is a refreshingly original story.
I could approach the novel only as a reader unaccustomed to books of this genre. I was impressed with Barnhill’s (even though she’s a friend, I’m not going to call her Anne, because of possible confusion with the queen) apparent knowledge of the details of life at the court of Henry VIII, and with her ability to work them into a well-paced story without seeming to show off her research. (She did confide in me that she’d been caught out in one error, that of having her characters drink tea before doing so was common at court.)
There is intrigue aplenty. Queen Anne realizes that fickle Henry is losing interest in her, especially as she repeatedly fails to produce a male heir. She fears, with good reason, not only for her marriage and throne, but also for her life. Her solution is to pressure her young cousin, Lady Margaret Shelton, into helping her. At 15, Lady Margaret has come from her country home to be a lady-in-waiting. The queen reasons that it will be safer for her if Margaret satisfies Henry’s restlessness, because Margaret won’t try to turn him against Anne the way Lady Jane Seymour or some other new love interest would.
But Margaret has fallen in love with Arthur Brandon, the illegitimate son of Sir Arthur Brandon. What should she do? Betray Arthur to save her cousin, or refuse to be the king’s mistress even at the risk of Anne Boleyn’s life?
To her credit, Barnhill does not offer a simple, too-easy solution to Margaret’s dilemma.