Having been greatly impressed by Longshore's debut novel, Gilt, I was eager to get my hands on the sequel, and thrilled when my friend April gifted me her ARC. I read it slowly over the course of weeks, snuck it in between my review commitments. While I do think Gilt held more appeal for me due to the less traveled subject matter, Longshore still brings something new to Tudor historical fiction with Tarnish.
Where Gilt's heroine merely accompanied the main players in the court, best friend to Henry's fifth wife, Catherine Howard, Tarnish goes back in time to Anne Boleyn. While numerous books have been written about Anne Boleyn, Longshore sets her story apart in a couple of ways. First of all, Anne is never queen in Tarnish, which takes Anne from her arrival in England from years in France through Henry's first real stirrings of interest in her. Longshore gives the reader a whole new perspective on Anne by only barely touching on King Henry's role in her life.
Most powerful and wonderful for me, though, was the feminism running through the novel. Anne Boleyn is a powerful character, a girl wholly unsuited for the time in which she lives. Well-educated, she speaks her mind, impertinent, clever and intimidating. While her wit brings her to the attention of Henry and other powerful men, history tells us that her scheming will also be her downfall. Longshore depicts Anne as a strong woman trapped, with no option of freedom. Her only choice is which man to rely on for life.
Longshore delves into the history and makes use of the rumored drama of the court. She puts forth here a genuine affection between Thomas Wyatt and Anne Boleyn, one that it's hard not to root for. Anne also has an entanglement with Henry Percy, and obviously the king, though for most of the novel he is involved with her sister. The King Henry VIII shown here differs greatly from the much older man in Gilt, still virile and alluring, though almost twice Anne's age. Longshore lays groundwork also for the scandalous rumors that she and her brother are too close that will eventually be part of the justification for her beheading.
What Left Me Wanting More:
Though I generally avoid fiction about this period of Henry VIII's life, because it's been so overdone, Longshore does a good job with it and brings her own slant to the tale. Her Anne Boleyn is one that I can sympathize with, but also convincingly selfish in motivation. I will say, however, that Tarnish felt a bit long. A lot of the reflection felt repetitive, and the pace was a bit languid.
The Final Verdict:
Katherine Longshore's historical novels have an automatic entry to my wishlist. Tarnish may not have been quite as wonderful for me as Gilt, but it's still a well done historical without doubt, and sure to delight readers of Tudor fiction. Longshore's author's note consists of a brief summation of her research and information on which elements of the novel drew from history, which is always a great resource for a curious reader.