The Queen of Subtleties: A Novel of Anne Boleyn

The Queen of Subtleties: A Novel of Anne Boleyn

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by Suzannah Dunn

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Anne Boleyn and Lucy Cornwallis: queen and confectioner, fatefully linked in a court rife with intrigue and treachery

She was the dark-eyed English beauty who captivated King Henry VIII, only to die at his behest three years after they were married. She was both manipulator and pawn, a complex, misunderstood mélange of subtlety and fire.

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Anne Boleyn and Lucy Cornwallis: queen and confectioner, fatefully linked in a court rife with intrigue and treachery

She was the dark-eyed English beauty who captivated King Henry VIII, only to die at his behest three years after they were married. She was both manipulator and pawn, a complex, misunderstood mélange of subtlety and fire. Her name was Anne Boleyn.

In The Queen of Subtleties, Suzannah Dunn reimagines the rise and fall of the tragic queen through two alternating voices: that of Anne herself, who is penning a letter to her young daughter on the eve of her execution, and Lucy Cornwallis, the king’s confectioner. An employee of the highest status, Lucy is responsible for creating the sculpted sugar centerpieces that adorn each of the feasts marking Anne’s ascent in the king’s favor. They also share another link of which neither woman is aware: the lovely Mark Smeaton, wunderkind musician—the innocent on whom, ultimately, Anne’s downfall hinges.

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Editorial Reviews

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Dunn’s Boleyn is lusty, willful, ambitious and ultimately likable.”
Publishers Weekly
Fans of historical fiction will savor this colorful retelling of the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn by British author Dunn. The novel (her eighth, and the first to be published in the U.S.) is narrated in turns by Anne, now imprisoned in the Tower, and Lucy Cornwallis, Henry VIII's confectioner, who observes the dramas of the court from the haven of her kitchen. Though their paths seldom cross, the two women's lives become fatefully linked through the scandalous liaisons of the English court. On the eve of her beheading, Anne documents her life's tale for her young daughter, Elizabeth, telling how she came to join the king's court as a lady-in-waiting to Henry's first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and caught the eye of the king. Ambitious and proud, she refuses to be his mistress, insisting instead on becoming his legitimate wife. Henry eventually succumbs to her pressures, but only after he breaks with Rome and declares himself the head of the Church of England. Meanwhile, Lucy falls desperately in love with Mark Smeaton, the angelic court musician who in turn is enamored with Anne. This reasonably accurate historical portrait of Anne is enlivened by Dunn's imaginative weaving of Lucy into the narrative, making for a delicious romp through the romance, politics and drama of 16th-century England. Agent, Antony Topping. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In her U.S. debut, British author Dunn imbues the story of the notorious Tudor queen Anne Boleyn with new life. The story is narrated in alternating chapters by Anne Boleyn and Lucy Cornwallis, confectioner to King Henry VIII. Lucy, who makes "subtleties" and grand sugar centerpieces for feasts and banquets, is taken aback when Mark Smeaton, musician of the queen, begins to pay her visits. What is given in friendship Lucy mistakes for love, and she is devastated when Mark is sentenced to death for committing adultery with the queen. The voice of Anne Boleyn is spot-on. Clever and brash, she uses colorful language not often associated with the image of a king's better half. Dunn also makes Lucy's growing love and eventual heartbreak palpable. One is struck by the similarities between the two women, even though their lives are worlds apart. Recommended for most historical fiction collections. [For other novels about the tragic queen, see Robyn Maxwell's The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn and Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl. Ed.] Anna M. Nelson, Seabrook Lib., NH Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
British author Dunn, author of seven previous novels, debuts in the US with a lively and contemporary-flavored take on a royal wife who, like Princess Diana, made enemies in high places. The story of Anne Boleyn, the woman whose love for a King changed the way England worshipped-at a price.-is told in alternate chapters by Anne and Lucy Cornwallis, the King's confectioner. Anne, a prisoner in the Tower and about to be executed on trumped-up charges of adultery-Henry wants to marry Jane Seymour, hoping she will bear him a son-is writing her memoirs for her daughter, the young Princess Elizabeth. While Anne's account is somewhat self-serving and defensive, Lucy's is merely that of an eyewitness to the unfolding events that she sees as she creates elaborate sugar confections for the court's banquets and festivals. Anne blames Henry's first wife, Catherine of Spain, for much of her trouble. A devout Catholic, Catherine refused to divorce Henry when he wanted to marry Anne and sire an heir. Initially reluctant to divorce a popular queen and offend Spain, Henry dragged his feet. But using guile and argument, and spending seven years in a legal limbo-she didn't marry until she was 32-Anne successfully persuaded Henry to act. Defying the pope, he made himself head of the Church and beheaded all those clergy and statesmen, including the famous Thomas More, who opposed him. Anne was triumphant, but not for long. Now, showing little introspection, she has no sorrow for Catherine or for her daughter Princess Mary, but merely recalls her brief happiness and then her downfall. Lucy notes that the people disliked Anne, disapproved of the marriage, and were angry with Henry's treatment of Catherine. Lucyalso recalls, sadly, how she herself fell in love with Mark Smeaton, a court musician, who, in love with Anne, paid dearly for his declaration of affection to her. A lively reminder of the perils of marrying kings and princes, however glam the bride. Agent: Antony Topping/Greene & Heaton

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)

Meet the Author

Suzannah Dunn is the author of ten novels in the United Kingdom, including The Sixth Wife and The Queen of Subtleties, both published in the United States as well. She lives in Brighton, England.

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Queen of Subtleties: A Novel of Anne Boleyn 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Not the usual Anne Boleyn book, that's for sure. There are several things going on for this one, though: interesting perspective, historical detail, the main characters. But it can get a bit confusing if you're not that familiar with history. I had read several books on the Tudors before I tackled this one so I could follow the story but friends and relatives who are no history buffs or who were a bit rusty found it a tad bungled.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anne Boleyn, one of the most dynamic and influential people in all of European history is shown in this work to be a whining creature that actually show little care for her daughter. The addition of the confectioner does nothing to move the drama nor enlighten use as to the tenor of the times. Needless to say, I was quite disappointed with this book.
Beverly_D More than 1 year ago
This novel takes a very different approach to the story of Anne Boleyn. The modern slang may throw a lot of readers off. There are actually two alternating stories being told here; Anne’s story, as being recounted in a letter to her daughter Elizabeth, and the story of Mistress Lucy Cornwallis, the King's confectioner, who falls in love with musician Mark Smeaton. There actually was a Mrs. Cornwallis, who was the Kings confectioner, but all else about her here is fictional. In this novel, she’s portrayed as being the same age as Queen Anne Boleyn, for whom she has little to no sympathy - she cannot even bring herself to refer to her as “the queen.” Lucy’s story starts in spring 1535. A young man comes to her kitchen, as she is busy boiling sugar; she assumes he is looking for her assistant, Richard, who has a lot of “friends.” He returns, eventually, because he is been intrigued by the final product as it appears on the King’s table. Over time, he continues to return, Lucy learns his name, and they become friends. Anne’s story is jarring, and IMO, does her no justice. While putting the story in contemporary language is an interesting choice, what often comes across is not witty, as all Anne’s admirers and even enemies will grant her, but mean, coarse, and vulgar. Occasionally it works - for instance, the emblem the king wore when jousting has been transmuted from “Declare I Dare Not,” to “No Comment.” I could also imagine Anne, in a “mood,” making fun of Henry’s poetry (as some have said she did) by reading it aloud in a funny voice, with her hand dramatically over her heart. I could not imagine her telling people to “eff off,” or calling someone “an arrogant little prick,” Anne is reported to have been much more eloquent than that. Henry, as told from the viewpoint of this Anne, is a p*ssy-whipped wimp, and this, too, is a very great stretch of the imagination. Where this novel works for me is in the vivid descriptions of the candy making (“Sugar, powdered, gets everywhere. In my hair and down my throat.”), the periodic moving from one location to another, the challenges and different ways of making “subleties.” So for that reason, I think the book is an interesting read, this peek at the duties, gossip, and goings-on of the people backstage in the saga.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
it was a struggle to read this book entirely! So much so, that I stopped reading the Lucy Cornwallis parts and stuck to only Annes. Where to begin. First off, historically incorrect in many places. The language used is ultra modern. For example referring to Charles Brandon as Charlie. Francis as Franky, etc. Not to mention words like the F-bomb. Seriously this book is badly written. The way the author has portrayed Anne is ridiculous! She sounds like a whinning, uncaring, cold, calculating gold digging *itch! Not that Anne Boleyn was a saint, but she wasn't as badly written as this book is! The Lucy Cornwallis segments had nothing to do with the story of Anne Boleyn and it was so boring!!! The book really insults a persons intelligence, especially if you are well versed in Tudor history! I would like a refund for the book and the week of my life that was lost / wassted back!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Overall, I thought the book was easy to read and interesting. There were two stories being told, Anne Boleyn and Lucy Cornwallis. The story of Anne Boleyn was wonderful, I thought it brought Anne to life. Though, I really don't know what Lucy Cornwallis had to do with anything. Plus she was a fictional character. All in all, I would recommend the book to other avid readers who enjoy novels of the Tudor era.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked it. Anne's voice rings clearly. The reader knows her as a complete person with all the warts and foibles that that entails. Even Henry, as presented through Anne's eyes, is a complete peson. The book was interesting. Interspersing the confectioner's story with Anne's makes it even more plausible. A very interesting way to learn and enjoy history.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Queen of Subtleties was a good book, it was a nice change to have two stories told at once. But it was different than the other books I've read about took the view that Mark Smeaton was infact her lover...I don't agree with that view, but liked the book all the same.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I didn't like the book. So why the five stars? Because of the manner in which it was written. Taking a 16th century piece of history and having the characters call each other 'Frankie', 'Billie', 'Becky', 'Maggie', etc, is definitely a different way of presenting this time period. I kept expecting Anne Boleyn herself to come out in Valley Girl Speak! I couldn't square myself with the way it was written, finding it just WAY too different, but hopefully this style will introduce modern teens to the story and get them interested in The Tudors.
harstan More than 1 year ago
While Anne Boleyn is incarcerated in the Tower awaiting execution on phony charges of adultery because King Henry needs to rid himself of his queen to marry Jane Seymour, she scribes her memoirs so her daughter Princess Elizabeth will never forget her mother. Anne's personal account of her meteoric rise from commoner to queen and collapse to death row prisoner is tainted towards making her look good in her child¿s eyes............................. At the same time, Anne works her journal; her servant Lucy Cornwallis provides a less biased account of the major events that she observed that impacted the queen. Much of what unfolded occurred because the Catholic Catherine held marriage as a sacred act of God and thus refused to divorce Henry when he wanted to marry Anne. Henry delayed the divorce until he felt strong enough to defy powerful Spain, the Pope, and a popular queen until he named himself head of the Anglican Church. Anne marries her king, but her happy nuptials fail to last as people blame her for bewitching Henry and he holds her accountable for not producing a male heir.............................. . The chapters alternate quite cleverly between Anne defending herself and the more neutral Lucy who has no ax to grind. Thus fans receive a fabulous historiography fictionalized account of an individual whose relationship with a king changed how her country worshipped. Historical fiction readers will appreciate this delightful recounting by Anne, who remains somewhat stolid as events come around without remorse even towards Catherine and her daughter Princess Mary. The seemingly more accurate write-up is also enjoyable as the confectioner servant tells how she sees what happened. Combined readers get a taste of King Henry¿s pompous court............................. Harriet Klausner