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(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Anne Boleyn is the odd girl out. Newly arrived to the court of King Henry VIII, everything about her seems wrong, from her clothes to her manners to her witty but sharp tongue. So when the dashing poet Thomas Wyatt offers to coach her on how to shine at court—and to convince the whole court they’re lovers—she accepts. Before long, Anne’s popularity has soared, and even the charismatic and irresistible king takes notice. More than popularity, Anne wants a voice—but she also wants love. What began as a game becomes high stakes as Anne finds herself forced to make an impossible choice between her heart’s desire and the chance to make history.”
After reading Longshore’s Gilt, I was fully prepared for a new and fresh young-adult take on Anne Boleyn. I figured that it would be tricky to pull off, given what the historical Anne did and lived through, but the author managed to handle Katherine Howard with a good deal of skill, so I didn’t fear too much for the story of Anne.
However, this novel takes the unusual approach of not focusing on the most active and controversial part of Anne’s life—namely, her relationship with Henry. Instead, this story takes place during the time when Anne was newly come to court and struggling to find her place within it. In comparison with the parts of her life that are more widely known, this time period was fairly uneventful; therefore, the author has to draw on what few events are known and try to make them interesting.
In this, she mostly succeeds, at least as far as concerns a love story. She and Wyatt orbit each other, neither quite able to trust the other, while others vie for Anne’s attention. Anne’s conflict between love and ambition plays out fairly plainly against this backdrop. The ambition appears to take second place, though, and very little of the historical context of this time is presented. This is different from Gilt, which did a much better job at weaving together Katherine’s embellished story with the facts. I have to wonder why you would set a novel in the Tudor era with such a polarizing main character if you weren’t going to use that era to maximum effect.
This is the problem that I had with the book personally: I love Tudor history, and I know a lot about Anne Boleyn. This novel makes her out to be much less confident than she actually was, and much more inclined to allow men to define her fate. Even given that many readers won’t necessarily know much about her, I do wish she had been portrayed as a bit stronger of a personality.
On a technical note, there was some repetition in this book that got a little hard to miss. The word “tarnish” is used several times, and since that’s the title, it stands out. Anne also harps over and over again on the fact that she wants love, that she wants her own voice, and the words that she uses don’t significantly vary from use to use. Bear in mind, I read an advance copy of the book, and this may have been edited differently in the finished product.
This definitely isn’t a bad book by any means; on the contrary, as a teen romance, it will likely appeal to the female young adult crowd. I just had very high expectations of this book after being so impressed by the first one; therefore, as a historical novel, I think it left something to be desired. Tarnish doesn’t quite live up to its potential, but it has some high points that will please many readers.
Also by this author: Gilt
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on June 11, 2013.