Wednesday, January 25, 2012

REVIEW: At the Mercy of the Queen by Anne Clinard Barnhill

 Synopsis: 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 the her cousin, Queen Anne.

My thoughts: I was intrigued by Barnhill's idea to cover the oft told tale of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn's relationship through the viewpoint of someone who is usually in the background: Anne's cousin Lady Margaret Shelton.  Madge as she is called, arrives at the Tudor court a complete innocent and must learn quickly to navigate her new environment.  Madge proves a devoted servant to her cousin Anne and becomes her much needed confidante as the Queen fears Henry's eye has started to wander and her time on the throne may be coming to an end.  Madge must decide exactly how far she will go to help her beloved Queen. In many Tudor novels all we see of Madge Shelton is the moment she is dangled like a carrot in front of Henry by Anne in the hopes that he will forget all about Lady Jane Seymour.  Here we get to find out a little more about Madge and I did like her quite a bit despite her being naive about the workings of court at first.  She soon learns to hold her own against the fast talking men of the court.

The story itself may not differ from what is known but one thing that is definitely different here are the way many of the characters are portrayed.  Madge is described as extremely beautiful and sought after by all the men at court. Henry Norris (courtier and one of the accused in Anne's trial) is a particularly odious character here.  Also we get to see a much more favorable side of Anne Boleyn-more as someone who strives to be a good Queen despite great resistance from her subjects as opposed to the power hungry Anne we see elsewhere.  Jane Seymour is seen as a cold and shrewish person while we usually see her portrayed more favorably.  I don't know that I would necessarily agree with the characterizations given what I do know of the period but it is nice to see an author take a chance and make some of the players different than what is expected.  This book also introduces us to Arthur Brandon, bastard son of Charles Brandon, and I must say he ended up being one of my favorite characters of the novel.

I did have a few trouble areas while reading the book, one of which was getting used to the dialogue because much of it is written like how they would talk (mayhap, anon etc...).  I was okay once I got used to the characters speaking this way though.  Also there is some romance here which I enjoyed but the love scenes got a little more descriptive than I expected.  I thought the pacing of the book was good but I noticed things moved a bit more quickly towards the end. I wish more time was spent on the trials of Anne and those accused with her but I can understand why it didn't though because this book is from Madge's point of view so it makes sense we would only see what she was present for and everything else would be described second hand.  Also I was surprised at how the novel ended-not a bad thing but I thought it was just an odd stopping point.

Despite the few hiccups I had with it, I did like this book and it's main character.  If you are a Tudor junkie like me I say give it a go-I think you will like it!

 I received my copy from NetGalley to read for Anne's tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.  These are my honest thoughts on the book.

For interviews and guest posts with author Anne Clinard Barnhill, more reviews, and giveaways you can view the rest of the stops on the tour HERE.


  1. I really want to read this one. I love the Tudor period.

  2. Thanks for this review. It is interesting to see the same characters portrayed from different points of view.

  3. Thanks for the review. I just bought the book on the weekend and am looking forward to reading it.

  4. I'm on this tour too. Can't wait to read it. Wonderful review!

    Hope you're still with me on the read-a-thon. What are you reading now?

    Also, I have the mid-week read-a-thon mini-challenge posted. All the links to mini-challenges/giveaways are listed below the read-a-thon banner just above the post section (below the slide show). Stop on by!