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2.3 out of 5 stars
2.3 out of 5 stars
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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 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 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 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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The introduction to this book I found to be inauspicious. The author tells us that she is going to stick as much as possible to historical events, but then informs the reader that she's going to change some of the well known name diminutives to change Madge Shelton to Meg, Bessie Blount to Betsey and Francis Western to Franky. Why I cannot fathom. She also, for reasons best known to herself, has decided to change to motto Henry wears during that all important joust from 'Declare, I dare not!' to 'No comment'. Excuse me?! I thought this was an historical novel....
With such a beginning I'm afraid my expectations were lowered. They were not raised by the opening chapter. Told by Anne Boleyn in retrospective the language was terribly modern and the sentence construction short and choppy. I found it uneven going and was not impressed. Chapters from the points of view of Anne Boleyn and the confectioner Lucy Cornwallis are interspersed, but the chronology seems to shift about too much. The making of the confectionary is interesting though, and it seems some detailed research has been done in this area.
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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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on 30 July 2006
Having studied the fall of Anne Boleyn in great detail I found this book a great disappointment as both a historical and fictional novel. The use of twentieth century colloquialism and frequent italicising frankly just got on my nerves. I also failed to see the point of the focus upon Lucy Cornwallis; the plot lacked any excitment or tension and left many questions unanswered that were needed for character development. Her story seemed to me to end pointlessly but this seemed to matter little with the one dimensional characterisations - Lucy could have easily been a minor character because, despite the blurb, the focus was completely on Anne. To have told the story predominantly from the perspective of Lucy would have made the story inherently more interesting. It is an old story retold unconvincingly.
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on 5 May 2004
I have never read anything quite like this before. The book is a fascinating insight into life at Henry VIII's court as seen through the eyes of Anne Boleyn, retrospectively, and "The Queen of Subtleties" the only female cook in his kitchens.
The language is modern - Anne's is conversational and very twentieth century. The musician Mark Smeaton is interwoven into the stories of both women.
This tale will have you eager to read more but reluctant to reach the final pages - anyone with an interest in Tudor history will really enjoy this book.
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