Brazen, releasing today on June 12th, can certainly be read as a stand-alone novel, but together with Longshore’s Gilt and Tarnish, the reader will experience a full, lively portrait of the Tudor court.
Just a brief history lesson from the official website of The British Monarchy: the Tudor period began in 1485 when Henry VII ruled, and continued all the way until 1603 with Elizabeth I. Henry VIII is potentially the most famous monarch of the time period, thanks to pop culture; he is notorious for changing religions and divorcing his first wife once he got bored of her – and finding his second wife, Anne Boleyn, guilty of treason. (Note: this is a very general overview… you should definitely read up on it all; it’s very interesting!)
Brazen takes place between November of 1533 and October of 1536, during Henry VIII’s rule. The protagonist is Mary Howard, the submissive daughter of an ambitious father and a shrill, manipulative mother. Mary is married off to “Fitz,” or Henry Fitzroy, King Henry VIII’s illegitimate son (and his only male heir). However: they are forbidden to consummate their marriage. As Mary and Fitz learn more about each other and begin to have feelings for one another, this rule becomes harder to follow.
Brazen is full of interesting supporting characters, each with their own traits and flaws. Mary’s best friends, Margaret and Madge, balance Mary out. Where Madge is flighty and flirtatious, Margaret is stoic and proper. The three friends communicate through writing poetry in a journal, which they pass around to convey secret messages. They are initially bonded after they make a running list of the qualities they look for in a man, which is hilarious and sweet and makes the story feel much more “contemporary.”
That’s one of the things I really loved about Brazen: Longshore is able to make the characters of a historical fiction novel feel like our modern-day friends. Her novels have been compared to “a more literary version of Gossip Girl,” and I think this makes the historical setting and characters a lot more accessible and easy to understand. For example, Hal, Mary’s sister, is a handsome (married!) poet who pines after Madge. Should he do the “right” thing and stay faithful to his wife – a woman he hardly knows? Should he follow his heart and fall into bed with Madge? These modern-day relationship problems are not so modern, as history tells us.
The power dynamic and fragile friendship between Anne Boleyn and Mary became one of my favorite aspects of the novel. Mary is Anne’s cousin as well as one of the ladies of her court, and she becomes a sort of confidante for the queen. Mary watches as Anne struggles to keep her husband interested, while still trying to remain her own person. There is a strong theme of independence that follows the characters throughout the novel, although that independence means different things to different people.
At over 500 pages, this may not be a read-in-one-day kind of book, but I certainly wanted it to be. The well-rounded characters, beautiful sentences, and dramatic suspense made this a page-turner for me. I was, as Booklist said about Longshore’s books, “royally riveted.”
Release Date: June 12, 2014
Received: ARC from Penguin Group