Book Review: The Concubine: A Novel by Norah Lofts

Acclaimed and beloved historical novelist Norah Lofts brings to life the danger, romance, and intrigue of the Tudor court that forever altered the course of English history.

The king first noticed Anne Boleyn as a heartbroken sixteen-year-old, sullen and beautiful after a thwarted romance with the son of the Earl of Northumberland. “All eyes and hair,” a courtier had said disparagingly of her, but when King Henry VIII fell for young Anne, nothing could keep him from what he desired. Against common sense and the urgings of his most trusted advisers, Henry defied all, blindly following his passion for Anne, using the power he held over the bodies and souls of all who reside in his realm and beyond. Anne’s ascent to the throne elevates her from lady-in-waiting to the highest position a woman could attain, but her life spirals out of control when Henry is driven to desperate acts of betrayal and violence. The consequences of Anne’s rise to power and eventual demise are felt well beyond the inner circle of the court. Loyalties, to church, to queen, to country, are tested, and — in the wake of the king’s volatile passions — can be an unpredictable matter of life and death.

First published in 1963 and adored by readers for generations, Lofts’ lush and moving portrayal of the ambitious and doomed Anne Boleyn will continue to reign as a classic retelling of this epic chapter of history vividly brought to life.

The book is very well done, despite the fact it has a slightly dated feel to it – the kind of stale whiff you get from historical fiction written in the early to mid twentieth century. Still, Lofts did her research, showing off the Tudor court and characters with the precession and brilliance of a master jeweler. However, she did so much research that she likes to show it off by quoting either a primary or secondary source at the beginning of each chapter.

Yes, it’s good to know she followed the facts rather than just making it up and as she went along but a lot of the facts she quotes would have been great scenes themselves – she should have developed the quoted text into scenes rather than just having the facts quoted act as scene bridges as she jumps from one year to the next.

The characters were great. They weren’t quite believable – they all just, just fell short of true complexity, and their motivations are often painted in broad strokes that makes all their actions combined hard to follow. She makes excellent progress in showing a deep psychological portrait of her main characters, but doesn’t quite pull it off – though I am happy to admit she comes close.

She does amazing work putting Henry on the couch and doing a Freudian analysis of his actions, yet she still has him and a lot of other characters bluntly spelling out actions and motivations with the subtly of an anvil. Meanwhile, the character of Anne Boleyn is not quite real sounding. Her maid keeps dosing her with poppy juice to help her sleep, and she drifts through the whole book as if drugged. All of the known characteristic – the humor, wit, and temper – are told rather than shown, making her a very unbelievable Anne Boleyn. However, for the past 500 years people have talked about how Anne Boleyn had something about her that was indescribable, so it’s understandable that yet another writer was unable to pin down just what is was about this woman that caused so much to happen.

My Gemstone Rating:


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