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2.3 out of 5 stars42
2.3 out of 5 stars
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on 19 January 2008
I was intrigued to read this book as it is the first of this author I have read and was hoping to find her to be another interesting historical fiction writer but unfortunately I have been disappointed. I agree with many other reviews in the fact that the modern language is out of place and jarring, one particualarly annoying one was 'its not you its me'!!! What was she thinking? Another one comes up when Anne refers to the Pope as being 'some dried up bloke in Rome' this seemed particularly out of place and being the slight history geek that I am I looked the word bloke up to see if it was a Tudor word but in fact it came about more than three hundred years later in the 1850s. Surely this is the sort of thing which a good editor would have picked up on and amended.
Historical nit picking aside there are some good moments in this book, particularly the section where Anne is told of Henry's jousting accident is convincing but I really do not see why it needed to be changed so that 'Harry' Norris passed this news to Anne rather than her Uncle.
The story of Lucy the confectioner and her assistant Richard is nice but doesn't really seem to have a purpose, although there was a potential to make them more relevant, but this was ignored. Instead they just held up the story and confused the chronology.
Overall a potentially good idea to look at the story of Anne Boleyn through another perspective but it was really disappointing. I will think twice before buying another book recommended by Alison Weir! My only consolation is that this was a third book in a 3 for 2 offer!
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on 10 March 2009
I'm sorry, but any book set in Tudor times that includes the words 'You've got to be kidding' deserves to be hurled with VERY GREAT FORCE at the nearest wall!
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on 18 May 2011
'Queen of Subtleties' by Suzannah Dunn is truly awful: badly written, atrociously punctuated (how can anyone use so many colons and commas?), with appallingly modern language and idioms. I struggled and gave up after 50 odd pages. I just could not take the Duke of Norfolk's 'new girfriend', his children's 'slap-happy mother' and Anne Boleyn's 'Mum' and 'Dad' and I visibly winced at the mention of 'Tommy' (Sir Thomas Wyatt), cute Franky (Sir Francis Weston), 'Billy' (Sir William Brereton) and 'Fat Cath' (Catherine of Aragon).

It is possible to write historical fiction in a modern manner yet retain the sense of the period being written about. This is just sloppy, historical bunk.
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on 25 April 2008
I love historical fiction. However, this novel is a wet squib on just about every level.

My biggest criticism is for the writer's use of speech. She frequently has her characters say and think in very modern language. I simply cannot stretch my imagination enough to believe that a 16th-century person would say "Yeah", "Yep", "What d'ya mean?", "I only just dropped by", "Beautiful kid", "He's kidding himself" ... the list could go on and on. The whole thing has the ring of 21st-century American soap opera. But then, maybe the TV watching audience is the author's intended readership. To that end she may have succeeded.

Also, there are an awful lot of facial reactions in Dunn's Tudor England. Everyone seems to spend their time "nodding, dreamily" or "breathing so that no one else could hear" with "rolling eyes", "eyes dip away into a smile" or "flickering eyes". No emotion is subtle enough that it cannot be described in clanging detail. Ultimately vague detail. And all of these penny-dreadful phrases do nothing but detract us.

Furthermore, the book could boast of more unusual, distracting and idiocycratic use of punctuation than any other book I've ever read (or, in this case, partially read). The amount of commas littered within the text are truly phenomenal!

Perhaps the biggest crime is the sheer mind-numbingly boring tale itself. Not an awful lot happens. Not an awful lot is said. Years pass by from one scene to the next, scenes again from which not an awful lot can be learned.

A difficult book to enjoy. An easy book to put down.
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on 3 May 2014
I have to say I didn't get on board with the modern tone of the novel. I see what the author was going for, but it felt strange and jarring to hear Anne Boleyn say things like "it's not you, it's me" and swearing like a trooper. The use of nicknames, whilst the author explains this decision in the author's note, felt anachronistic and only confused the matter. Dunn admits too that she changed certain facts, such as Henry's jousting motto into "No Comment" but what isn't clear is why. What was the purpose of changing it? It seems unnecessary. There's also a bit of a blunder, which she doesn't mention in the author's note so would seem to be an actual mistake - building work didn't even begin on Nonsuch Palace until 1538, but it appears here in 1535.

These things are annoying, admittedly, but I'll grant Dunn hit upon a novel idea by interweaving Anne Boleyn's story with that of Mrs Cornwallis, the king's confectioner. Although Dunn obviously had to invent almost everything she writes about Lucy, I rather enjoyed the indulgence of lavishing my imagination all over those descriptions of marvellous fairytale sugar subtleties. Lucy's naivety was a little irritating and unbelievable, but I could deal with it as I wondered what would come of the intertwining of these two stories. What would come of Lucy and Anne's tales; surely there would be some coming together or perhaps a clever thematic intertwining towards the end? Um... no. But, surely, Lucy will learn something from all this, there'll be some sort of growth of character or renewal, won't there? Nope. She doesn't make the fresh start she talks about so often, she just stays where she is. It's not a bad ending, but I expected more. It's like an unfinished sentence, it just sort of hangs there.

The book is quite well-written, nothing to wow me but competent and readable enough, but the modern dialogue and use of diminutives mars it. Throw in a couple of accuracy bloopers, and historical alterations that are stated openly but seem unnecessary and don't really make any sense, plus to finish it off a fictional story that doesn't really go anywhere at the end... and it all feels a little odd.
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on 2 November 2008
I've had a Tudor England obsession since the age of 14 (particularly Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I) so devour every book about it I can get my hands on - fictional or otherwise. What appealed to me about this novel was its apparent greater focus on Mark Smeaton's story: for some reason, the short life and tragic fate of a young man who overcame the disadvantages of a lower class background to not only become one of Henry VIII's and Anne Boleyn's favourite musicians, but a groom of the privy chamber, only to become caught up in events beyond his control, has always fascinated me. In most novels set in this period, he is at best a very minor character.

Because I find the subject matter so fascinating, it's rare for me to be bored by a novel focusing on this era. Unfortunately, that was the case here. There was so much potential for an interesting and original approach to a frequently told story, but due to some poor writing choices - the alternating narratives without an attempt to maintain a consistent timeline, jarring use of modern idiom ("f***" has a long and not-so-glorious history; 'awesome', 'cute' etc not so much), the use of twee nicknames - the novel unfortunately missed that opportunity.

The alternating Lucy/Anne narratives let the book down badly: Dunn seemed much less confident when writing from Anne's point of view, and those sections were laboured and ultimately did her subject a grave disservice. I found myself skim-reading those sections, as the anachronistic nicknames and 1990s adolescent-speak irritated me immensely, and I found Dunn's potty-mouthed, crass, one-dimensional Anne to be a far cry from the complex, brilliant and cultured Queen we know from history, although at least we weren't subjected to a vicious hatchet-job of her character of the likes of "The Other Boleyn Girl."

I think the novel's strength lies in Lucy's part of the story - she is by far the most three-dimensional of the characters, and Dunn is more assured when writing from the "commoner's point of view." The Lucy sections save it from the one-star rating I would otherwise have given. That said, they still needed work. Unfortunately, despite the role that Mark Smeaton is given, and the more detailed backstory that is revealed through his conversations with Lucy, Dunn appears to have trouble making him a well-drawn and interesting character. He is written as several years too old for a start - he was in his late teens or very early twenties when he died, not twenty-seven - which ironically has the effect of portraying him as extraordinarily immature. He also comes across as terribly insipid, which means that it is hard to understand why Lucy falls so hard for him. The narrative style also fails to convey the depth of the characters' emotions, which had the effect of rendering them rather dull. I do believe however, that had the novel focused solely on Lucy's narrative, more work been done on making the characters complex and 3-D, and the modern idiom kept to a minimum, it could have been more successful. The final section of the book, set in the summer of 1536 and dealing with Lucy's grief following the executions, is very powerful.

Overall, this book felt like two separate novels cobbled together, rather than a seamless whole, and could have used a thorough edit and a decent historical consultant. Much as I wanted to like it, this unfortunately is not a novel I could recommend.
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on 29 December 2006
This book is truly appalling. I was encouraged to pick it up because Alison Weir had praised it on the cover, but I really wish I hadn't. Reading the author's notes, I was a little put off by the comment that she'd changed some names to avoid a "dated" version, and by her changing Henry's famous motto "Declare, I dare not" to "No comment"! Talk about dumbing down - surely the author or her publishers should have realised that even someone who perhaps has only read other historical fiction would blanch at that? I should really have stopped there, because it only got worse...

Philippa Gregory manages to write convincingly about the Tudor court using reasonably modern idiomatic that doesn't jar - but this is a travesty. The language is wrong - and for very modern dialogue it sounds incredibly wooden, Anne Boleyn and the courtiers come across as stupid and far too open in their plotting, people act out of the station their times would have insisted they kept - and I just didn't care about any of the characters, with the exception of Lucy.

The idea is good - one woman desperate to prodce an heir to save her life, the other wanting one last chance at love and a settled home and alternating their stories, but the execution is appalling.

I'd give it zero stars if the option was there!
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on 12 August 2007
This book follows two points of view (told in first person); Anne Boleyn, writing to Elizabeth the day before she is to be beheaded, and Lucy Cornwallis, the royal confectioner. Both are `Queens of Subtleties,' whether it be in social situations or in the delicacies they make. Lucy becomes friends with Mark the musician, who is eventually accused of having slept with the Queen and is held in the Tower and beheaded.

I wasn't very sure why the author decided to focus on both characters. I know she says at the start that she was interested in Lucy as the only woman on the kitchen payroll, but there doesn't seem to be any other reason. Or is it just as a contrast, or to show the impact Henry's decision had? I just wasn't really sure what the purpose of it was, especially as each one tells a slightly different period of time. For example, in Anne's account, she is beheaded way before Lucy's has even got to that point - I think if she had kept them more in sync, or had focused on just one character, I would have found the differences in points of view much more interesting. I didn't find Anne very believable, she seemed rather one-dimensional and it didn't feel like a real person was speaking to me.

And, like the others, I disliked the dumbing down of "declare, I dare not" to "no comment." That felt completely unnecessary. I suppose I expected another Philippa Gregory's 'The Other Boleyn Girl,' which was unfair, but even without having read her books first, I think I would have found this book bland. Definitely a disappointment, especially after its recommendation from Alison Weir on the cover (one of my favourite historians).
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on 14 September 2008
I try and avoid giving up on novels but I am currently about a quarter of the way through and have just been reading reviews to see if it is worth carrying on with this. It seems not. Anne Boleyn is one of my favourite historical figures and I have read a lot about her but this book is just dull and silly. My main gripe, apart from the bland portrayal of the characters, is the modern language. Why?? When I read a historical novel, I want to be totally immersed in the period. If I want modern slang, I'll read a chick-lit book. Like other reviewers have said, I was expecting this book to be similar to Philippa Gregory's novels and whilst the language in those books too, can sometimes be cliched, they are masterpieces compared to this drivel. It's really not worth the effort. There are plenty of better Tudor novels to choose from.
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Having just read Dunn's The Confession of Katherine Howard which I loved, I decided to read this, her first 'historical' novel. Like other reviewers I struggled to finish it, but I think for slightly different reasons.

As others have said, Dunn experiments with a modern take on 'history', so she makes people talk in contemporary terms while retaining the thought world of their times. I thought that worked really well in her Katherine Howard book, but here the distance created is too great. The modernisms of having Anne Boleyn talk about her 'mum' and 'dad' and 'auntie Liz' (Elizabeth Howard!) is really grating and doesn't work.

I also disliked her version of Anne: Dunn makes her too bitchy, too politically-naive and stupid, when in actuality Anne seems to have been well-educated, morally-pius and intelligent to the point of being an intelllectual.

The second story of Lucy, the court confectioner, worked far better for me, and gave a taste of real lives at the Tudor court. Dunn can be an acute and observant writer, particularly good on the subtle manoeuvres of romantic relationships. There are signs of that here but they become subsumed under the more sensational Boleyn story.

So I found this an unsatisfying read but to her credit Dunn seems to have refined her technique enormously in later books.
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