I was truly eager to read another novel from Suzannah Dunn and pulled The Queen of Subtleties: A Novel of Anne Boleyn immediately out of my latest shipment of books. Thus far in all my years of devouring all Tudor era historical fiction I had not come across a novel that I could not find anything redeeming about. That was until The Queen of Subtleties crossed my path. I hate to say that, as I truly admire and have complete respect for all authors for the accomplishment alone. My comments are made with the upmost respect and as I mentioned I have enjoyed Dunn’s work in the past.
Anne Boleyn, as depicted in The Queen of Subtleties, is much more Sex and The City than anything else. I found the modern language difficult and the use of unfamiliar nicknames VERY annoying. Some examples: Charlie (Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, Tom (Thomas Cromwell), Franky (Sir Francis Weston, Fitz (Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond), Billy (William Brereton) and Harry (Sir Henry Norris). Really? I had a hard time figuring out whom Dunn was referring to and that certainly detracted from the flow of the read. Really, one might enjoy it, if they had little to no knowledge of the period, but that annoyed me as well, it was a waste of time for me and truly I would have tossed it aside had I not felt bound to review the book for my blog. The language is also thoroughly modern and annoyingly so – again, I found myself completely distracted by it.
I feel compelled to say that I did enjoy bits and pieces of it. Especially, the last chapter, in which Anne offers some advice to her daughter, Elizabeth, whom she wants to tell to keep her head down to keep her head, but acknowledges that with Tudor and Boleyn blood that task will prove impossible. Acknowledging this, Anne tells Elizabeth to simply be her mother’s daughter and hold her head high despite the risk. I wish Dunn could have brought more of mother/daughter connection of the last chapter to the entire novel… Nevertheless, one chapter cannot make up for the nicknames and the language, which distracted this reader from really understanding what this novel's point was - perhaps it didn't have one.
I will confess I am always annoyed by attempts to “dumb down” history to make it more accessible. Honestly, if you can’t distinguish Mary Tudor, Queen of France, Duchess of Suffolk, from Mary Tudor, Queen of England, daughter of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, then perhaps you should just find something else to read. Rather than bringing history to life Dunn confuses those with knowledge and misinforms anyone without it. As I have said in the past, good historical fiction should foster investigation into history, to my mind, not dumb it down for the masses. Really this shouldn’t be classified as historical fiction but rather complete fiction. I hate to say this but do not waste your time with this one.