On Amazon UK
How I discovered this book: I adore all Gemma Lawrence's books, and leap on every new one she brings out! First discovered through our mutual interest in the Tudors, on Twitter.
'He wanted all to know that he adored me above all others'.
One of those novels that has given me that 'what on earth do I do next?' feeling, now it's finished... the third part of Ms Lawrence's series about Anne Boleyn, Above All Others is concerned with the years 1527~1530, when she and Henry have pledged their love to each other, and think it will be only a matter of months before she is his queen - only to discover what a long, tedious process the King's Great Matter would become, as they come up against the all powerful Catholic Church, and the scheming 'fat bat', Cardinal Wolsey. But this book is so very far from tedious.
Even more than the first two books, I'd say that this episode is a work for those who already have a deep interest in Anne Boleyn and the Tudors. It explores the theological questions of the time in great detail, and illustrates, with no stone unturned, the difficulties faced by Anne and her King with regard to the social traditions and beliefs of the time. I know how well-versed Ms Lawrence is about her subject, and I see this book as an education, too; it explained much to me.
Gemma Lawrence's Anne has much to say about the corruption within the Church, the hypocrisy; I loved her pronouncement on Wolsey's wearing of a hair shirt, something that has often occurred to me when I see the flaunting of piety: 'It seems to me, however, that when such a thing is done, and it is made known that it is done, it loses the benefit of true and honest spirituality. It becomes, rather, a pretence, a show designed to tell the world how very good that person is'.
The way in which Anne's spirit progresses from the still girlish lover at the beginning of the book to the wiser woman, who realises that she must use every atom of her wit to fight her enemies and get what she wants for her and Henry, is so clever, and subtly portrayed. It is apparent that she is the stronger of the two, though, of course, she is wise enough not to let Henry realise this. This version of the much-maligned Anne is the person I always saw her as, too ~ no means without fault, but her good intentions were genuine, and she had ambition for her people, her country, as well as for herself. Secondary characters of her family (including the slippery Norfolk) are as vivid as Anne and Henry.
Something I appreciated is that the author never falls into the trap of allowing Anne to think like a woman of later times; her point of view is always very much that of a far less enlightened period, when the Church controlled the behaviour of the population, and the lot of women was a frustrating one, indeed.
The novel ends just after Wolsey's death, when the coming of Cranmer and Cromwell into her circle gives Anne new hope for a solution to their problems.
I believe this series to be the only fiction about Anne Boleyn that you need to read. I was completely absorbed by it all the way through, and my only task now is to stand by Gemma Lawrence's desk with a threatening expression and a big stick to make sure she hurries up and gets the next book, The Scandal of Christendom, out as soon as possible!